Daily Archives: 8 November 2005

Milking it for all he’s worth

Lord Winston’s appearance in adverts for “clever milk” (“fishy milk” would be more accurate, but clearly St. Ivel’s marketing consultants felt it didn’t quite project the image they wished to convey) has convinced me further that we are sliding into the Judge Dredd universe. In Get Smart, entrepreneur Otto Sump markets a new brand of confectionary. He makes no claims about their properties, yet their name and the slogan “Ya gotta be dumb ta buy Smart Sweets!” causes sales to go through the roof.

It’s a bit of a jolt to realise that Robert Winston has feet of clay along with the rest of us. I think Zoe Williams may have a point though: the more freedom advertisers are given to try and fool us, the less we’re likely to trust anything they say.

Too much TV

I managed to catch the last 45 minutes of the Beeb’s new retelling of Much Ado About Nothing. It was better than I expected it to be, although I still can’t see the point of doing Shakespeare without the language (he isn’t particularly remembered for his great plots).

Perversely though, it reminded me of one of the things that is beginning to annoy me increasingly about the BBC. In short, there’s too much of it. Much more than I could possibly watch. And yet I still have to pay for it.

The fact is, while 95%+ of TV is dreck, there are still too few hours in the day for me to watch all the stuff I’d like to watch and still have a life and a job. Bizarrely however, while a channel like Discovery makes this as easy for me as possible, by replaying the same thing again and again, the BBC seems to only cater for absolute TV obsessives.

It doesn’t help that politicians alway crow on about there being too many repeats on TV. Chance would be a fine thing. To be fair, the complaint is about endless reshowings of Dad’s Army and they may have a point. But why isn’t Rome on 7 days a week? Why do I have to fit my life around a TV programme if I want to watch it?

Meanwhile, we appear to be in a situation whereby private broadcasting companies simply cannot compete, squeezed between the BBC and Sky. ITV may have never exactly caught my imagination but it has never been this bad, while Channel 4 has gone from the channel that I almost always watched in the mid-90s to the one that I switch off as soon as the news finishes. Wouldn’t it be nice if we just gave them a bit more room?

Most quality TV after all comes from private companies. The fact that HBO can flourish in the US while we get stuck with Location, Location, Location says it all really. Public service broadcasting is about more than the BBC, and the more that we can encourage commercially, in a regulatory environment, the better. Currently we seem to be strangling the life out of any attempt to do so.

What I propose is that the BBC is forced to make do with half of its current programming output and has to show programmes on a regular basis to ensure maximum coverage. The couch potatoes will be enraged, but I can hardly see them taking to the streets, can you?

BBCs 3 and 4 should be scrapped – the best of both would simply have ended up on BBC2 anyway. In total, we ought to be able to shave a good 25% off the license fee.

I haven’t – quite – joined the anti-license fee hordes yet. To be sure, I find it extremely difficult to justify the idea of throwing someone in prison for not paying a TV license, but at the same time I would be extremely worried about any attempt to pay for that via general taxation. Leave aside the concerns about political interference; it simply wouldn’t work. If Gordon Brown can treat local government with such contempt year after year and get away with it, what hope would there be for the BBC?

I think that subscription may the only real solution in the long term. It won’t happen this time to be sure, but when the charter is next up for renewal, with the digital switchover over and done with, it really does deserve proper consideration. But even then it doesn’t solve the problem of what to do about radio, which currently makes up just under 20% of the license fee. But either way it is high time we started critically analysing what the BBC does that is public service broadcasting and what it does that prevents others from doing the same. If we lavish a little less on the BBC, we may well find that it creates space for others to pick up where they left off.