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January 13, 2009

BBC–ITV marriage is probably a good thing

It’s looking more likely that the BBC and ITV are going to merge some of their regional TV news operations.

In a year or two, it’s more than possible that your local BBC and ITV bulletins will come from the same building, using many of the same pictures and one or two of the same staff.

I think this is probably the only way the duopoly of regional television news can be saved.

ITV is trying to shed some of its responsibility for producing public service television. I feel that’s partly because they’ve got a good point that in a country with 700 television channels, the iPlayer and the internet, ITV can’t maintain the level of service they had in the 1970s. But I think it’s also because they’re trying to be a bit cheeky and squeeze more profit out of what remains a privileged position.

This deal, if it goes ahead, could well prop up the status quo, and might even improve bulletins. There should be more pictures to go around. More small-scale events will find a cameraman is available, and you’re more likely to be featured twice on the telly, rather than once.

But some staff – particularly, I would guess – cameramen, will probably go as a result of this.

That’s more bad news for journalism – an industry that’s shrinking faster than Northern Rock’s share price did last year.

But the deal to share resources will give us two competing bulletins until 2016 at least. That’s good news – and should give us better news.

P.S. The technical aspects of this are hilarious. I’d imagine a merger of their operations will only work if they’re using the same systems. ITV use something called iNews. The BBC use something called ENPS. Both are completely different, and I’m not sure they can share things very easily while using two. In the short term, this deal could be more expensive than it looks.

P.P.S. The deal will be a bigger culture shock for the BBC than for ITV staff, I reckon. The number of press conferences that the BBC still sends three teams to is mind-boggling.

December 03, 2008

Strangling the Kangaroo

First the BBC’s local video service. Now Project Kangaroo has been throttled by the powers-that-be.

You might not have heard of Kangaroo (its working title), but it’s basically a British iTunes for video, that was put together by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. It would work online (like the iPlayer) and eventually through TV set-top-boxes.

Some of the programmes would be paid for by ad breaks, others would be pay-per-episode (like iTunes).

But the Competition Competition, in its infinite wisdom, has said it would restrict competition in the VoD (video-on-demand) market.

As the five-year-old child in BBC sitcom Outnumbered said last week: “Beeping, beeping, beeping, beeping, beeping, beeping, bollocks.”

Is there something with this country about throttling innovation?

I’ve got the Microsoft-powered BT Vision which is pretty good, but has some flaws that Kangaroo would rectify. For instance, there isn’t the option to watch something free, but with adverts. I’d rather do that than pay my £14 a month subscription.

And surely the presence of services like BT Vision, Tiscali TV and the Sky Player all suggest competition is already healthy? What’s more, in the case of BT Vision, the Beeb, ITV and Channel 4 are all putting their shows on there, with no indication they’ll disappear when/if Kangaroo launches.

I guess Kangaroo’s problem is that it’s too close to the BBC, ITV and C4. If an independent had made it, and licenced programmes from the broadcasters, there wouldn’t be a problem. But we’re only a small country. There aren’t the billions of dollars available to make your own iTunes unless you’re established, and in all likelihood, a broadcaster.

BBC iPlayer took aeons to happen because of competition worries and the anti-innovation mindset at the BBC Trust. It’s still not as brilliant as it could be because of arbitrary limits placed on what it’s allowed to offer.

The likely delay, or perhaps cancellation of Kangaroo, is a massive shame and says something about this country today. Skippy probably wouldn’t mind pushing the Competition Commission down a mine-shaft. And I wouldn’t blame him.

P.S. As if proof were needed that Britain’s losing its innovators, the Project Kangaroo boss, Ashley Highfield, recently left… for Microsoft.

March 30, 2007

Listen up viewer – we don't care about you

Two bits of news out this morning, both of which suggest the TV viewer is low down the list of priorities when it comes to deciding what to put on the box.

Firstly, the FA look set to award the rights to the FA Cup and England home games to ITV and Setanta. This despite the fact that the BBC’s coverage has been credited with making the Cup exciting again after several years of rubbish. Would ITV have to show the lower-league cup ties that the Beeb have loyally provided over the past few years? And if they’re paying so much more (£400m+) will they have any money left to make the coverage half-decent? The deal leaves the BBC with no live football outside of the Euro 2008 and the next World Cup, which with their range of talent must be pretty annoying. Gabby Logan – who moved from ITV recently – must be kicking herself.

Secondly, the BBC are mulling plans to show EastEnders five nights a week. I don’t think they understand why people have stopped watching the show over the years (it used to get around 16m people regularly, now it gets about half that). People stopped watching because it’s too big a commitment. Ask viewers what they really want and they’d probably ask for fewer episodes of higher quality. Even the show’s producers are against it, but the Beeb want to squeeze some more milk from the ratings cow. Laughably they’re undertaking a “feasibility test to assess the impact on the production schedule”, but don’t appear to be researching what the viewer actually wants.

Media 2, Viewer 0.

October 11, 2006

A Good News Story

People always complain that the news is full of bad news, so here’s something that cheered me up this morning:

ITV1’s Trinny and Susannah Undress was more prêt-a-porter than haute couture last night as the style show lost out to both of the BBC’s terrestrial channels as BBC2’s Autumnwatch with Bill Oddie claimed 3.7 million (16.6%) viewers.

Brilliant. It serves ITV right for putting pictures of naked people in the newspapers to promote this dead horse of a programme. Didn’t they realise that Trinny and Susannah were so last year!?!

September 03, 2006

ITV: Buggered

No, it’s not the name of a new primetime reality TV show hosted by Ant ‘n’ Dec. It’s the state of Britain’s biggest commercial broadcaster.

Advertising revenues (and many would argue the quality of programming) have been sliding downwards for at least a decade and the financial state of the company is a little risky.

Their solution has been to “diversify”, developing more channels. These include the originally-named ITV2, 3 and 4, ITV Play, CITV and (until recently) the ITV News Channel. They also own Men&Motors – which is essentially the same thing as ITV4.

ITV channels

Entering into the “multichannel world” is supposed to mitigate against the sliding audience figures on the main channel. But it’s not going to work, and here’s why.

Let’s compare ITV with Channel 4 (a comparison that’s been made a lot recently by ITV themselves). Channel 4 also have a multichannel strategy, encompassing E4, More4, Film4 and the truly brilliant (!) Quiz Call.

The key to those channels’ success is that the digital channels branch out from an existing theme on Channel 4. So you can easily spot the roots of each digital channel on Channel 4 (T4/Big Brother = E4; Dispatches/Channel 4 News = More4; Films = Film4; Deal or No Deal/Countdown = Quiz Call).

Channel 4 digital channels

The reason it works (and the reason their digital channels do well) is that they can cross-promote the digital channels after a very similar programme has broadcast on Channel 4.

The reason ITV’s buggered is that it can’t.

Take CITV for instance. You might not have noticed, but since we were kids, the amount of kids’ TV on ITV1 has gone through the floor. There’s typically about 30-60mins a day now, and they’re proposing to scrap it entirely. So there’s no way of cross-promoting the CITV channel to kids. Because they won’t be watching.

Similarly, ITV4 shows intelligent drama (apparently), much of it American. But where is that sort of programming on ITV1? They can’t cross-promote it after Neighbours From Hell XXVI because the people watching that won’t give a toss about the sort of shows ITV4 does.

The saddest thing about ITV is its news, or lack thereof. Their lunchtime bulletin is being cut in half, and their late bulletin seems to get later by the week. The ITV News Channel was scrapped just as it was becoming watchable, meaning at the end of the news bulletin on ITV1 the only thing they can promote is either Corrie (which they seem to do often!) or the fairly pisspoor ITV News website.

The company’s in a mess because it’s trying to be all things to all people, but is managing to be increasingly little to everyone. The potential is there on channels like ITV3 and ITV4, but those channels won’t thrive unless audiences think there’s anything with “ITV” at the front of it that’s worth watching.

ITV might be right in saying that Channel 4 can be a bit tacky (Charlotte Church? Her own show? Brilliant idea!), but they should be more worried about their own future.

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