This may seem like a nerdy subject but I bet it relates to your daily habits. TV even in the age of the multi-platform and the internet is still a collective experience, if the show is good enough – just think of the Olympics. But not only competition but regulation threatens to stifle it says Peter Fincham, the BBC1 controller fired for “Queengate,” now with ITV. The problem he identifies is Ofcom, the industry regulator originally set up to be light touch but is now extending its authority all over the place. Fincham was speaking in the MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival, the annual beef-in of the moguls and lesser breeds of TV:
“You might think, if you were attempting to define public service broadcasting for this modern, competitive age, that your very starting point would be: what can we do to help ensure the continuing breadth of TV’s appeal? But Ofcom’s four purposes – “informing our understanding of the world”, “stimulating knowledge and learning”, “reflecting UK cultural identity”, “representing diversity and alternative viewpoints” – are the opposite: a recipe for the niche, the marginal, the worthy. Try hanging them outside a West End theatre. See who buys a ticket.”
Fincham makes a big point. Give ex-BBC types and that new breed of quasi-economists strategists an industry to lord it over and boy, do they thirst for power. But hands off- of course! The actual broadcasters (BBC, ITV C4, C5 etc) are probably more disliked than the programmes. But falling revenue in the commercial sector due to platform pressure often means worse programmes. – see ITV, need I say more? and the fall in drama and comedy output in C4.
Yet opportunities still abound. It’s a complicated picture, but the often trotted-out belief that the mass TV audience is dead, with kids switching off in droves, is a fallacy:
TV ratings body Barb reported that for 2007, the average amount of television watched every day by those in the 16- to 34-year-old age group was around three hours and 20 minutes – a figure only around 20 minutes per day less than for adults in the 34- to 54-year-old age group.
For students, this figure is probably much higher. Thinkbox, the commercial TV marketing body, has released a report called The Secret Lives of Students, which found anecdotal evidence that students watch a lot more TV after they leave home – mainly a diet of daytime fodder, including many soaps and cult viewing such as Peep Show and Shipwrecked.
Tess Alps, chief executive of Thinkbox, says the research found TV was hugely important because it is free entertainment..
“With no money to spend, they see TV as the primary form of entertainment,” says Alps. “The research found one group of 12 people sharing a house, who all congregate around the TV”.
This I remember as the Yogi Bear club around the box in Queen’s Union a generation ago. Nowadays though, the broadcasters have to be smarter and live in the multi-platform world of the web, high definition TV and even the mobile phone.
But if there isn’t enough money to make good programmes, the platforms will be left deserted.
Costs of TV
BBC licence fee £139.50 p.a. (Limited satellite channels available free on Freeview and Freesat)
Sky packages from £16 to £45 per month.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London