Monday, November 02, 2009

Media Concentration Is Bad

In Prospect magazine Peter Jukes compares British and American television drama, something which I have done frequently here. Jukes knows a lot more about the behind the screen workings of television drama so he isn't simply comparing the output but also what goes into making TV drama.

The difference between 1994 and 2008 is startling. Instead of being the responsibility of four network controllers, most drama is now commissioned by one person.

That person is Ben Stephenson, BBC controller of drama commissioning. He has faced mounting criticism since last year, when he made ill-advised remarks about a “limited pool of talent” for television drama


But everyone missed the glaring issue: why are these questions being addressed to only one person? In 1994, I worried about the cultural power of four network controllers. Now you can forget Channel 4 and BBC2: they can make decent one-offs, such as Red Riding and Freefall this year, but both have basically dropped out of adult dramas. ITV has fared no better. In the 1990s the powerful baronies of Granada, Yorkshire TV, LWT and Thames had some autonomy. But their amalgamation into one corporation, followed by a catastrophic fall in advertising revenue, has turned ITV drama into a shadow of its former self. Whatever your view of public service broadcasting (and I support it) the near-monopoly of the BBC in drama commissioning is disastrous.

So maybe a start to rebuilding the quality of British television (assuming that abolishing the license fee isn't going to happen in the near future) would be to make the BBC split the drama commissioning between their different channels and try to find some means of enticing the other channels to get back in the game.

Incidentally is the decline in ITV's advertisng revenues wholly unrelated to the manner in which they have rushed downmarket at breakneck speed, I realise that a multi-channel environment makes their job harder but that isn't the whole explanation is it?


TDK said...

I think what you are seeing in the commercial sector is the result of years of being protected from serious competition and then the market being opened up suddenly by the advent of Sky and cable.

There was a lot of complacency across the market. At the moment everyone tries to compete by copying what works. Thus one talent show is a success and then suddenly everyone is doing talent shows. In the past we saw the same thing with House buying or home improvements. We seem to be doing lots of pro-celebrity stuff at the moment. Doctor Who is a success so they produce two different spin offs; more if you include the behind the scenes shows.

The logical way to compete is to differentiate oneself but British TV does virtually the opposite.

Ross said...

In the case of the terrestrial channels, I think their licenses restrict the degree to which they can pursue niche markets.

Five in particular is in a situation where they are effectively trying to replicate what ITV does except on a much smaller budget.

Nyubi said...

hmm.. looks like great article here, Ross