Colliding worlds 

26 May 2008 tbs.pm/905

A loss of faith

In the past, ‘good’ television and film-making has often involved a degree of artifice, so it was perhaps inevitable that TV producers under pressure to produce good programmes would in turn use that artifice to influence the outcome of programmes so that they looked good and were entertaining to the viewer at home.

Combine recent industry deregulation with increasing financial pressures, and it was no wonder that this artifice started to affect the premium rate interactivity that had grown up alongside the reality TV craze; the issue of fraud never seemed to cross the minds of certain producers under immense pressure to deliver the goods.

This pressure to produce cheap and entertaining television can often conflict with viewers’ wishes as expressed through such interactivity; a phone-in caller could “lack personality”, or a competition winner could reside in the Shetland Isles which could make the delivery of a prize very expensive for the production team.

Therefore the temptation to manipulate the outcome of such events became overwhelming, but at the same time there was a monumental disaster just waiting to happen since broadcasters were now playing god in many more ways than had been previously the case.

So it was inevitable that a series of scandals ended up ripping the curtain away from television, exposing the artifice that had taken place in recent years as a consequence of deregulation combined with producers’ requirements to make a programme look good, run smoothly and (as was often the case) to make money.

Viewers want to watch programmes that look good and are entertaining, but they usually draw the line when it comes to being fleeced of money regardless of the sums involved. The world of television artifice had suddenly collided with the real world, and broadcasters along with producers found themselves horribly exposed as a result.

Even more uncomfortably, the BBC was also implicated along with the commercial sector at the same time even though the BBC-related scandals were nowhere near as bad as what had happened at ITV and Channel 4. Hence a frantic Mark Thompson sacking producers in a desperate attempt to restore credibility (and licence fee support).

The collective result of all of this has been a further erosion of the trust between viewers and broadcasters as this survey seems to illustrate, which for the commercial sector is bad news for advertisers, and bad news for the BBC as it continues to ask viewers to support the paying of a licence fee.

But whether broadcasters have really learnt their lesson remains to be seen; for example, can the BBC continue to actively support the Eurovision Song Contest in its current form when the SMS voting method used by some other countries was rejected by the BBC as being ‘flawed’?

Just because it happens elsewhere doesn’t make it any more excusable.

The prognosis is perhaps even worse for ITV. With the same faces still fronting ITV’s popular television programmes, the ratings for light entertainment may remain good but ITV’s ongoing attempts to improve credibility have suffered a major setback as a result, which seems fairly evident in terms of the relatively poor ratings for ITV1’s new News at Ten.

A member of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System
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