“With increasing competition in a multi-channel environment of audience choice British television broadcasting will inevitably fail to bring home the bacon. ” Addressing the concepts of quality, competition and choice, decide to what extent you agree with this statement. Since the early introduction of television to our screens, and the launch of the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) in 1922, it is of no surprise to see how the British television industry has grown.
Following the subsequent growth of the 5 major TV channels we know today is the introduction of a new digital era with over 106 channels, 800 channels via satellite, and 30 channels through the BBC’s Freeview [(2005) British TV Channels [online] Available from www. wikipediatalk. wikipediaproject. Accessed 21 October 2005]. All of which are accessible from the comfort of our own homes and at the touch of a button through the latest media technology. With this considerable expansion of viewer choice and channel competition, have television broadcasters lost the ability to give us the television we really want?
It could be argued that the wider range of programmes affect our standard of television by radically changing the principle concept of British broadcasting. Television today does more than just entertain, educate and inform. It gives people the insight to worldwide issues and allows us to form our own opinions about controversial ideas. However, I am going to explore this motion further and discuss whether this influx of television choice is detrimental to our television quality. The End of a Monopoly Channel.
Until 1955 the BBC had enjoyed being the sole network in British homes. John Reith, managing director of the BBC believed that broadcasting was a public utility. It was Reith’s belief that entertainment was not the sole purpose of broadcasting, but it should preserve a “high moral tone” and include “the avoidance of the vulgar and hurtful” [Scannel, P. (1990) Public Service Broadcasting, In: Buscombe, E. (ed. ) British Television p47 (Oxford UP: New York)]. Soon after BBC2 was introduced offering more programmes of a more controversial level.
It offered an alternative channel without hindering the quality or market share of BBC1 and let the new channel take the risk which resulted in a healthy audience percentage. High quality formal broadcasting was the BBC’s policy ensuring their market received truly quality programming in the interests of the public. Television broadcasting had great potential to enlighten and educate the public where they could take interest in issues they were excluded from before. Unfortunately, the Post Office funded the BBC and prohibited them to talk of any public controversy, disabling Reith to develop the broadcasting side.
The BBC was regulated and intervened by the government due to the company’s monopoly status, signifying a more controlled channel. The government would decide what information could reach the public and the news was supportive of the right wing parliament. Hence, the introduction of the independent television company ITV offered viewers an alternative to the perhaps bias news channel. ITV was launched as a commercial “extension to public broadcasting, not an alternative. ” [Scannel, P. (1990) Public Service Broadcasting, In: Buscombe, E. (ed. ) British Television p53 (Oxford UP: New York)].
It was subject to state regulation to ensure it provided good quality programming that informed, educated and entertained. The government were sympathetic to the need of commercial television based on the need for greater freedom and choice, rather than the sole purpose of profit-making through advertising – for both the television and advertising company. Nevertheless, the introduction of commercial television was widely criticised. In 1960 Sir Harry Pilkington set about examining the impact of ITV compared with BBC and became concerned with programme standards.
Pilkington defined the importance of public service broadcasting as: “… a service comprehensive in character; the duty of the public corporations has been, and remains, to bring to public awareness the whole range of worthwhile, significant activity and experience” [Pilkington Committee 1962: 9] The main concern was that television programmes were often aimed at the largest possible audience, appealing to a low level of public taste. Also, there was the possibility of following in the footsteps of the sleazy commercialised American TV through the introduction of advertisements and sponsorship.
To steer away from this image, tight controls were enforced to regulate the amount of adverts shown and to ensure adverts were clearly separated from the programmes during ‘commercial breaks’. [Cooke, L. (2005) British Television: Culture, Quality and Competition, The Times Online, Accessed 27 October 2005] The old monopoly had soon become a duopoly where both BBC and ITV had similar programmes screened and a roughly equal share of the market. The concept of one channel trying to target the entire nation with a schedule mixed with ‘something for everyone’ is slowly dying away.
Instead, we have many channels specifically aiming at one market (e. g. The History Channel). ITV viewed programmes such as drama, comedy, light entertainment and documentary which were becoming increasingly ratings-led. Such an example was ITV’s extensive market research into the new soap ‘Heartbeat’. The company abandoned some storylines and emphasised others, dependant on which ones gained more audience appeal. The finished product gained a mass audience and top ratings but fulfilled nothing more than an insipid and light soap for Sunday evening viewing. Having said that, not all of ITV’s programming was dull.
Quality drama series such as Prime Suspect (1991), Cracker (1993), Band of Gold (1995-6), Kavanagh QC (1995), and Touch of Frost (1992) proved that commercial TV could make top entertainment and quality viewing. [Cooke, L. (2005) British Television: Culture, Quality and Competition, The Times Online, Accessed 27 October 20005] Broadcasting for ITV was ungoverned. It was neither answerable to the government nor the public, nor did it cater for public interests, needs or tastes. It was the most profitable programmes that were aired, regardless of their quality, or their disregard for public service.
[Goodwin, A.and Whannel, G. (1990) Brunsdon, C and Caughie, J (eds. ) Understanding television (London: Routeledge, p11-16)]. The future of broadcasting was chaired by Lord Annan, who raised the point that although the BBC should be praised for its “… responsible approach to public interest… “, it was clear that people began to object to biased programmes led by the government. He said “… broadcasters were not challenging enough… ” and hid behind government and vested interests to produce “… programmes which bolstered up the status quo and concealed how a better society could evolve. ” [Annan Committee 1977: 15].