Use it or lose it? 

20 November 2008 tbs.pm/980

BBC U-turn on decision to drop Christmas Top of the Pops

Given my recent stance on the BBC’s previous decision to drop Top of the Pops from the festive schedule, of course I’m pleased that it has been reinstated for this year, and it will be interesting to see what the ratings are for the two planned shows in light of the recent publicity.

However there is a downside to this return, namely the fact that Simon Cowell had previously expressed a desire to revive Top of the Pops as a commercial proposition, and in what respect the BBC’s change of heart is directly related to this request.

(Incidentally the recent and very abrupt axing of After You’ve Gone and Phoo Action could have been intended to free up previously unallocated programming budget for these newly-announced TOTP specials,)

Recently there has been mounting pressure on the BBC not just to share its programming amongst commercial rivals (which has been the case for several years), but also to share its intellectual property in the form of programme formats amongst UK broadcasters, which are now often sold in the UK and abroad to the highest bidder on the open market.

Therefore if a commercial producer wants to make use of a format which the BBC holds the rights to but isn’t currently exploiting (such as Top of the Pops), industry pressure could be brought to bear on the corporation to either force a format sale or to make the BBC use such a format itself even if the BBC feels that the time isn’t right for its revival.

In Simon Cowell’s case, he could undoubtedly make use of the Top of the Pops format to shamelessly promote acts from his other shows, so the commercial agenda is obvious here. However Top of the Pops in particular had a tradition of being unbiased in terms of its music coverage; its reputation (and former popularity) was based very much on this.

It’s also arguable that the likes of The X Factor have effectively hijacked the mass market for pop music in the absence of Top of the Pops, especially as X Factor-related acts seems to be the only thing that is selling in respectable numbers in terms of music downloads these days (most of the chart seems to be occupied by acts with niche appeal).

Therefore if the BBC revived Top of the Pops itself, this could potentially threaten to unseat The X Factor’s commercial dominance of mass market pop music, and Doctor Who proved that being bold can reap strong rewards in the process. No wonder then that Simon Cowell was showing interest as well as perhaps being worried as to what could happen.

Should the BBC have caved in to Cowell? For one thing, Top of the Pops isn’t being revived as a full-time series just yet – and the ratings for the two specials will be the determination of what happens next – so if commercial interest has been expressed then the BBC could (and perhaps should) also consider a full-time revival as a consequence.

But only on its own terms.

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