The Not-Live BAFTA Awards

In 2002, Ant and Dec remade the famous “No Hiding Place” episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads. This was a classic episode of the sitcom where the “lads” tried to avoid learning the result of an away England game, before highlights were shown later that evening on TV.

Something that made some sense when the original version aired in 1974, and when there would have been no live TV options for such a game, made less sense in 2002 when if you didn’t subscribe to the right channel at home, you could just pop around to your local pub to catch the game.

In 2019, there are still those who stay oblivious to the day’s football results until Match of the Day is on, but that means not watching Soccer Saturday or Final Score, not listening to Sports Report or 606, not watching the news, avoiding mobile alerts on your phone, and definitely staying away from social media.

We live in an information obsessed society, where the young especially want to know what’s happening now.

So it’s good to know that there’s still a real throwback to a bygone age that eschews the need to share information instantly. Instead, it’s something that takes a much more lackadaisical attitude to audiences.

I’m talking about The British Academy Film Awards.

Last night saw this annual event, these days coming not live from the Royal Albert Hall. As ever, the actual awards in the RAH start at around 7.00pm, but the TV transmission doesn’t start until 9.00pm.

Some of the consequences of this include:

  • ITV News broadcast the major award winners in their 10pm bulletin, ahead of those awards being shown on BBC One.
  • Ditto Sky News.
  • Anyone with a non-BBC news app installed on their phone could get alerts ahead of those awards being seen on TV. (The BBC’s own news outlets were “self-censoring” the news to avoid spoilers. You could still get the results in real time from the website and app however.)
  • Anyone with any kind of social media account could get the results. It’s not exactly unheard of for someone to open up Twitter when they settle in to an awards show on their sofa, perhaps to critique speeches or outfits with their friends. If you opened Twitter at 9pm last night, most of the results were there.

It’s not as though those in entertainment television don’t understand the importance of live. Series like Strictly, The Voice, X-Factor and many others all have their finals live. Yes – they need viewer votes to work, but they also understand the importance of social media. They want you to share hashtags and keep the conversation going with your friends. If you’re not watching, and your friends are, there can be a FOMO effect. The hosts repeatedly remind the audience that they are LIVE.

I bang on about this every year, and I genuinely don’t understand why changes aren’t made. Not because I moan about it, but because the audience itself moans about it.

I continue to note that in the US, The Oscars, Emmys and Grammys are live. Even the BRITs with all their bad-boys and girls are live on ITV.

I’d love to understand the reasoning for holding out on the whole live thing. Is it:

  • The BBC only wanting a show no earlier than 9pm (Call the Midlife is a ratings hit after all)?
  • BAFTA not being willing to start the show any later than 7pm?
  • Stars not wanting to go to after-parties as late as 11pm? (Have you tried getting home late at night on a Sunday?)
  • Everyone scared that the talent will say something that simply must be edited out?
  • Concern that the show will run long, bumping the news back to 11.30pm?
  • All of the above?

For what it’s worth, the overnight ratings for last night’s BAFTA awards are the lowest ever, with just 3.53m watching. This is despite inheriting an audience of close to 7m from Call the Midlife. Over on ITV, over 5m watched the first episode of a new series of Endeavour.

To put this in context, the audience for these awards has been slipping year after year since around 2013. Could the growth of social media and smartphone app usage negate the need to watch a non-live results show?

I wouldn’t pretend that some of the reasons for the low numbers aren’t related to larger TV audience issues, and this year the big winners were a non-English language film (Roma) and a strange comedy of manners about one of our lesser-known monarchs (The Favourite). But it’s not like big film stars didn’t turn out.

My solution for making the BAFTAs relevant again?

  • Live. Live. Live.
  • Start the show at 7pm and then go live on TV into the main awards at 8pm. You can still show an edited reel of the “lesser” award winners handed out in the 7-8pm hour at a break point later in the show. The Oscars manages to do this.
  • Keep the show simple. No need for elaborate and unfunny sketches. Get straight into handing out awards.
  • Beyond a few nominated songs, and an RIP reel, strip back most of the rest.
  • Turn the Rising Star award into a phone vote. It’s an audience vote anyway, so you may as well galvanise the audience to vote on the evening rather than ahead of time. The award is sponsored by a phone company after all! This seems to work fine with things like Sports Personality of the Year.
  • The presenter’s job should really just be to keep things moving. Comedians tend to work well because they can think on their feet.
  • Plan for a tight two-hour TV show. The UK TV industry should not be short of execs who can work within the constraints of live television.
  • Work with any recipients of lifetime achievement awards in advance to ensure their speeches are the right length.

Otherwise, just remove the thing from TV, and hand out all the awards on a weekday lunchtime at a restaurant somewhere, sending out a press release with all the winners afterwards.

[A Bit Later] The Guardian publishes a very similar article to this one.

“The time delay meant viewers could not tweet along with a live broadcast and feel like they were taking part in the show, something that has helped other live events.”

And from their Winners and Losers page:

“Everybody moans about it, but nothing seems to change: the baffling practice of the Bafta telecast running two and a quarter hours later than real-world events sucks almost every scrap of excitement out of watching the thing. In the age of spoiler-tastic social media, everyone knows the results, so why bother? Presumably the BBC don’t want to give up a prime piece of early Sunday evening TV real estate, and the Baftas want to catch the morning papers’ first editions, but something has got to change. Watching the tuxed and gowned beautiful people spout sententious truisms while thanking their agents is only bearable if there’s actual excitement to be had; the Baftas appear to doing their level best to avoid anything like that happening.”

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