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7 July 2006
'And now on ITV1, in place of tonight's John Pilger-fronted condemnation of government Middle-Eastern policy, Ant and Dec present Emmerdale Coronation Heartbeat Love Island. Starring David Jason. Forever.'
And poor the viewing public.
The observant amongst you, i.e. the small percentage of our readership that switches their PC off every now and then for an evening of hellish boredom in front of the idiot box, may have noticed that British commercial television is in crisis. A crisis they'd rather not talk about, pointing gamely to huge soap ratings, claiming that everything is peachy, just as long as another Saturday night hit rolls along.
Around the edges, though, it's all looking frayed. They're skint.
If you stay up late enough, you will find ITV's night-time schedule devoted to 'ITV Play', a dreadful, brain-melting quiz show that's chewing up bandwidth on digital television. A true cash cow, once-principled public service broadcaster Channel Four is also on the bandwagon, cunningly allowing punters to pay for the programming, a quid a go.
You might also notice that kids' programming on ITV is disappearing, just as fast as Ofcom slashes public service requirements. These days, World Cup notwithstanding, children arrive home from school just in time to catch the end of their programmes, in lieu of something dreadful from the archives and the delights of Joe Pasquale. Or, they could switch to the CITV channel, but nobody ever does. Fred Dinenage died for nothing, on a weekly basis.
The problem ITV has with kids' TV is a simple one. It costs money, for very little return. They would much rather repeat 'Heartbeat' ad nauseam, as it does at least guarantee advertiser income, than innovative children's content, where sales are limited. Public service or not, unless they fashion a hit of 'Teletubbies' proportions, childrens' TV just doesn't make business sense. A digital channel, on the other hand, might, simply because repeat fees are minuscule.
The digital explosion means that the market is spread ever thinner. Why watch a single episode of a pisspoor cartoon import on ITV when they're wall-to-wall elsewhere? Then there's Internet, computer games, mobile video-on-demand, real life. Children, after all these years, really have switched off their TV sets and gone and done something less boring instead. In our day, the only alternative to 'Magpie' we had were pages 200-230 of the Great Universal catalogue.
Speaking at a recent get-together for industry bigwigs, grande fromage followed chief executive saying that the only way to survive this increasingly cut-throat environment is to make and broadcast your own high-quality content. ITV, trying to save a £100 million shortfall, is doing exactly the opposite, closing in-house production, to the despair of writers, production staff and ultimately, viewers. In an ideal world, then, they would have continued making half-decent programmes, and not pissed £120 million up the wall on Friends Reunited.
Friends Reunited. What were they thinking? If we had 120 million burning a hole in our pocket, we would have spent it on something useful, such as 12 billion penny chews, or Burkina Faso. We would not, except perhaps for stalky purposes, have bought a database of virtually every adult in the UK, who having discovered that everybody else in their class is now married and 'really enjoying myself in the world of industrial plastic's!', never logs back in, ever again. It's like buying the entire works of Ron Jeremy on DVD, and trying to explain it to the wife as you sneak it into the house:
'What's that under your arm?'
'No, no... you can't fool me, there's something hidden under your coat.'
'OK, I own up. But it was a bargain, and really, really useful.'
'mumble mumble 120 million mumble...'
'Oh God. You've bought Friends Reunited, haven't you? Why can't you just buy porn like normal people?'
'Sorry? It's too late now. What are we going to do with it? You realise we can't simply make a programme about C-list celebrities getting their old school-mates together, saying through gritted teeth how great they are whilst building a new sports pavilion?'
'Because we're already doing it. And it's shit.'
'I don't suppose you can get our money back?'
'Bloke inna pub.'
So: entire programme budget gone on shonky web investments, and there's only so much Ant and Dec the public can take before there's a baying hate mob at the doors and their prize asset is hanging upside-down from a lamp post. Here's hoping.
The whole debacle is made worse by government dithering on a junk food advertising ban. Of course, this is first-order state nannying, having created the moral panic of TV-bound fat kids watching Spongebob eased between adverts for Turkey Twizzlers and Chocolate-flavoured lard, they're now coming to our rescue to Ban This Immoral Filth. As CITV exists solely from high-fat, added-sugar income, they might as well give up when this well-meaning but knee-jerk ban finally happens. So they will, and personal responsibility dies another death.
Wheels are already in motion, with government quietly weighing and measuring every eleven-year-old in the country - without parental consent, we might add - to produce the statistics they need to prove that we are breeding a nation of blobs. There are, of course, just as many fat adults as fat kids, but there's no rush to follow up 'Jamie's School Dinners' with 'Jamie's Pub Lunches Followed By Six Pints Of Vodka and the World's Biggest Kebab'.
Gone will be original drama for teens, and home-produced, imaginative educational programmes for pre-schoolers. That's business, kids. If only they made programmes that reflected these harsh realities:
- 'My Parents Are Accountants'
- 'Sesame Wall Street'
- 'Tracy Broker'
Still, we all get to blame fat-tongued Jamie Oliver, which, in the short term, is fine by us.
And don't get us started on the BBC.
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