Friday, 7 August 2009

The Decline of British Television

Some of our television channels are in financial trouble, and I say good because they have had it coming. In the recession they suddenly discover they have over-reached in terms of volume and under-served in terms of quality and interest.

Channel 4 is cutting back, and such as More 4 News is being chopped. It is no loss, because More 4 News was just a cut down repeat of Channel 4 News with maybe one different item. So what? As for Channel 4, this was once an innovative and interesting channel, now stuffed with light easy-assemble documentaries and property programmes long after that bubble burst. All the creativity has gone. The low point was Cherie Blair's utterly ill-informed contribution to a History of Christianity, a so called major documentary series that turned out to be a dud. Michael Portillo's was hardly better. More 4 is just a place to repeat the repetition. E4 is just an excuse for importing American programmes. Producing these channels adds a few viewer figures while the decline goes on. Big Brother this year is a demonstration of something worn out and dead, with apparently even the production staff restless. You could innovate that idea: say put academics into a house for a week and see what they come up with regarding several problems of contemporary society. Well it doesn't appeal to the get constantly pissed having lots of sex apparent generation, but it would be interesting. The closed institution and its dynamics should be interesting.

ITV is in some serious trouble too, and this after merging and cost cutting, losing the regional feel that was once its strength. Decades back, watching Yorkshire Television meant something local, and a region had power. Its Calendar programme was a flagship. Now it is just some marginalised production that puts a logo in a corner - you can always judge decline by the sudden need to add in a logo. Once I watched it every night, despite it coming from Leeds. Some years ago Look North from the BBC, with a more local base, simply stomped all over it. Now if I change channels it never rests on Calendar, and indeed I hardly watch ITV. Well, I did start watching Dickinson's Real Deal in the afternoon, with its dealers and auctions, but now its programmes have been repeated so often that you feel you're being had. So thanks for the over repeated competition and then lets switch off - because I've seen it. As for ITV in the evening, I cannot remember when I last put it on.

ITV 3 only catches some viewing because its programmes are so old. Many are from the BBC. So are BBC programmes on these stupidly renamed channels, that used to be UK this or that. But they are a con, because they carry adverts but are part owned by the BBC in its commercial arm. I think this is wrong, and whilst the BBC should sell its programmes and even have channels abroad (and there advertise), programmes made by the BBC and shown on a UK BBC owned channel should not carry advertising.

The BBC does keep standards up, but BBCs 1 and 2 are starting to look a bit thin, and when we get to BBC 3 that is surely about 'slag teenagers getting laid and pissed' entertainment dressed up with the morality of not doing it, and then BBC Four does interesting things but ruins them with its logo and with constant repeats. Who wants to watch a drama with a logo in your eye all the time? So I don't: it'll be shown on BBC 2. The Channel repeats on the same night, then it repeats during the week, and then later in the year, it repeats them all over again, again in the same nights and through the week. So you might watch the channel, until you realise it carries nothing much but a few programmes a week for part of the year. BBC 3 is the same, and it is just filler. How many hundreds of times does BBC 3 intend to show Doctor Who?

You could close many of these channels down, and simply put the content back into fewer of them. No doubt the Open University has added some quality material into television viewing, but in its broadening out we've also lost the straight, cheap but clear intellectual programming. And the treatment on BBC 4 is again repeat, repeat. Back came Marcus de Sautoy's good history of mathematics programme, but it was shown and repeated over and over again before.

I haven't mentioned Sky Channels. That's because I don't have more than the free one (plus the News) and it is just dross. Why anyone wants to pay for them I have no idea. I cannot think the number of times I flip from BBC News Channel to Sky News only to find yet more adverts and self-promotion. Bye bye. By the way, of all of them, CNN is unbearable. By the time they have told you what they are going to do, and had so many breaks of transmission in between, there is hardly any time for any actual news. Euronews isn't bad for a different perspective, even if it is a bit slideshowy with moving pictures.

Sometimes I don't want to sit at this computer and engage in interactive narrowcasting. But you sit in front of the telly, press the channel hopper, and realise that in all the choice of channels there is nothing there. And because there is so often nothing there, you find that when there is something there you fail to notice it is on. The amount of dross and repetition actually harms the good stuff when it appears. I won't buy a TV listings magazine because they are only as good as the rubbish shown, and I haven't the budget anyway.

So if these channels are suffering financially, then good, because perhaps they might cut back all the delivery and concentrate instead on putting something together that will attract, appeal and hold - and get rid of some of these multichannels.

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