The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Reach Out


A problem with British television is the obsession with ratings. Because the drawback with chasing ratings is not that you end up going downmarket, but that you end up catering for the same viewers over and over again – so you end up reducing the amount of people who watch your channel and have a lower audience ‘reach’.

The BBC produces hundreds of hours of drama. Which is great. However, in a given week, about seven or eight hours of that drama will be given over to soap operas; EastEnders, Casualty, Holby City, Doctors. Which is great if you like soap operas; those eight or nine million people certainly get their license fee’s worth every year. Unfortunately it means that the remaining hundred or so hours of drama the BBC produces – one or two shows a week – are all the original drama that’s produced for the remaining fifty-odd million people who also pay the license fee and who don’t follow soaps.

Similarly, ITV produces I-can’t-remember how many episodes of Emmerdale and Coronation Street a week. Which on the one hand is good for advertisers – these shows get about ten million viewers – but on the other hand, if those advertisers buy space in those shows they’re going to end up selling to the same ten million people again and again. And, as these shows have been running for forty-odd years, their demographic tends to be elderly.

If you want to gauge the health of nation’s television, see how much prime time is given over to production-line drama; in the UK, it’s squeezing out sit-coms, shows like Top Of The Pops and Tomorrow’s World, detective shows like Bergerac. A greater diversity of output would mean more people watched BBC 1. And would give channel controllers more shows to take the credit for.

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