Dogged determination 

1 February 2002 tbs.pm/1800

Dog looking out of window

It was inevitable that a ratings war would happen just as the economy experiences a downturn and advertisers go cold. What I can’t understand is why this revelation is sending shockwaves through the industry. The only shock is the length of time the industry has been deluding itself.

Everyone knows that television has much to compete with, but what programme makers seem unable to recognise is that the best way to compete is to improve the product rather than introducing flaws into it and continuing its seemingly unstoppable descent into sub-mediocrity.

Sorry, but the television industry is reaping what it sows. The product is too often feeble and diluted. Too many channels just means too many cheap make-over, cookery, lifestyle, fly-on-the-wall and reality programmes. E4 does not show people sleeping in the BB house overnight because it’s a ratings winner for them, it does it because it’s cheap. The Test Card would be even cheaper, more use and probably attract more viewers.

The broadcasters are blaming the new way of calculating the BARB audience figures for a sudden drop in interest in their product. Just asking a different group of people what they watched is not exactly a quantum leap in progress here. I have said this before – you need to use true interactive technology to monitor actual viewing in real-time. Why rely on diaries and people’s obviously dodgy memories? The main reason broadcasters use DOGs – apparently – is because it makes their current archaic methods of gathering audience figures easier. That’s not in the viewers’ best interests.

If accurate viewing figures are so important why does the industry not get down to it and throw some thought and money into their derivation? Or would those figures be even more unpalatable?

I’m not looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses. Of course there has always been dross on the television; my point is that multiple channels and all the technology sometimes don’t seem to have actually advanced us very much. “Fifty channels and nothing on” may be a cliché, but it’s too often true.

At 45-ish I feel that young people with little talent make a disproportionate amount of mainstream BBC television for young people who have no attention span. I don’t feel the need to level this accusation at ITV whose mainstream programmes seem to me to have a broader appeal and I don’t remember my parents saying this when they were my age.

You may take the view that executives are clever for “thinking outside the box” but that doesn’t make what’s actually on the box any better. Admittedly you can fool some of the people some of the time but in-your-face-and-up-your-nose branding and endless over-promotion does not make the actual programmes better.

When I have to watch a programme on, say, UK Gold, it does annoy me intensely that there is a DOG there. Of course, I am more attuned to this kind of thing than the average viewer because I’m a presentation fan, but because the DOG annoys me it takes several minutes before I am able to mentally tune it out. The fact that it allegedly doesn’t annoy other people is of no consolation to me.

DOGged channels would not lose viewers if they stopped using a DOG. If all stations stopped using them, those who currently resist investing in digital – because they identify this branding as being synonymous with cheap-tat-dustbin-lid-television – might find they were able to overcome their prejudices. By branding themselves with DOGs, digital channels immediately consign themselves to a ghetto, and I don’t think it’s a view that’s all that uncommon.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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