As television commoditisation increases evermore, there’s much discussion at the moment about BBC1’s weak Wednesday nights. Davina’s chat show has been lambasted, and the lack of a drama series at 9pm means that even Paul McCartney on the fur trade doesn’t get as many as 2 million. ITV are putting out a stream of dramas at 9pm (currently Murder City) while BBC2 has The Apprentice – for a couple more weeks anyway.
This week’s Broadcast speculates that another episode of Eastenders might be forthcoming on Wednesdays, while we also learn today that the BBC is to make a “Holby City” cop show to sit alongside stalwarts Casulaty and Holby City. If it were to go on a Wednesday, as Mediaguardian speculates, then it’d give BBC1 a banker nearly every night of the week.
But is this what the viewer really wants?
It’s certainly what the BBC seems to be planning. The Creative Future outlined the other day promises that the BBC should “create fewer titles with longer runs, find creative space for outstanding writers and cherish the programmes audience love best like EastEnders, Casualty and Holby City.”
The problem with that is that interesting and different dramas have fewer outlets. It’s not that the schedule will then be so full that there isn’t any space for this kind of drama, but the money will certainly be used up.
In any case, can the BBC really run their Holby cop show up against The Bill on ITV? It’s not really extending choice for the viewer is it?
Looking at the full list of recommendations, it seems better than the highlights suggest.
- Pilot and develop dramas across platforms that generate intense experiences for different audiences
- Commission at least four major radio landmark dramas for Radio 4 a year
- Reduce the number of individual titles broadcast and consolidate the offer, investing in longer runs of series, growing value through on demand and multiple transmission whilst retaining range and breadth
- Maintain the BBC’s cultural legacy by nurturing and empowering writers. This will require more investment in training and new production models such as writer-producer or team-writing.
- Cherish and invest in titles like EastEnders, Casualty & Holby City that speak to the broadest audiences
It’s just that I suspect that the emphasis, and money, will be directed towards the last item in that list. Charter Renewal’s just about over for a few more years, and the ratings game can begin again in earnest.
Meanwhile, Channel 4 is produly announcing
the fact that they’ve secured a deal to let UK viewers watch episodes of Lost and Desperate Housewives on its website for 99p. Once you’ve paid, you can watch the episode an unlimited number of times within 24 hours.
This seems like an exciting deal, until you realise
in the States you can either pay $1.99 to download and own episodes of both series, ad free, for your PC of video iPod. Or alternatively, you can watch streamed versions of the shows free of charge
on the website. The downloaded episodes have no ads, while the streamed ones include ads and don’t let you fast-forward. I suspect that UK IP addresses will get blocked, but in an age when I can already, ahem, “get” ad-free downloads of these shows free of charge, going down a free-streaming route with ads, seems a sensible low-hassle route to go. With series that have multi-episode stories (or “arcs”), allowing your viewers to catch-up seems like a good idea.
The other thing that strikes me as strange with the 99p deal, is that there already multiple opportunities to catch-up with episodes of Lost. With at least one repeat on the main Channel 4 service and many more on E4. If I were to get a deal on buying the DVD boxset when it comes out, that might make it worthwhile, but the DVD rights are completely separate from the broadcast rights.
I don’t predict that this’ll be a spectacular success. However, some marks for at least attempting to do something. ITV really need to get on this bandwagon quick. Why aren’t all the soaps available for catch-up online? Include ads (I know there are regional and even ownership issues), and just allow pausing.
And if I was Five, I’d go so far as to actually allow full downloads to watch on iPod and PSP of, say, The Gadget Show. I reckon there could be some quite creative ways of making money out of the venture by perhaps having sponsorship credits or others. The broadcast edition I saw the other day didn’t have much in the way of actual ads anyway, and I suspect, like Fifth Gear, their premium rate phone competitions earn more cash than the ads do. Fifth Gear gives away a car each week, so I reckon we’re looking at between 50,000 and 100,000 callers paying a pound a time to enter these competitions.
There are still issues with PACT about giving away content like this, but someone needs to steal a march on this. They might be pleasantly surprised about what kind of cut-through they achieve.
As for ad-funded programming, like the Sure football programme on ITV at the moment… give it all away!