Friday, 1 January 2010

Chicken in the middle of the road

While it's nevertheless good to see the head of the Beeb sharing some expertise about his enemy and give me some ideas to bounce off, this is a subject I've also been thinking about recently having watched more than I usually do over the holidays.

I have a feeling ITV has shot itself in the foot to some extent.

An overly commercial popularised appeal tends towards the bland and middle of the road. When talent is cultivated and rewarded this format can develop a lasting appeal to the audience (as it has done with the talent shows, soaps and used to do with football, drama, documentaries and investigative reports) but then the fear began creeping in as proliferation of channels drained the channel's ability to concentrate resources and audiences.

Add this to the centralisation of production and this effect would only be magnified.

I agree that ITV has missed an opportunity by failing to differentiate its different channels, as each of the channels in its stable is now fighting over the same audience. But while I think a reversal towards greater regionalisation in the wider media environment is somewhat inevitable I suspect the heavy corporate forces at work behind ITV mean it will be too slow to decide to turn the supertanker around in response to a changing of the tides around it.

In many ways this 'race for the centre' echoes the problem with politics, and I'm a bit surprised Mark didn't actively make the link, though I'll credit him with a general implication instead and be more overt myself.

One of the problems with democracy and mass media is the emphasis on negative prioritisation. The party or broadcaster can't afford to alienate segments of its' potential audience by offending sensibilities and challenging preconceptions.

Just look at the furore caused when various figures were forced to grovel in public for an apologies - scousers have been notoriously quick to jump up in shock in respose to everyone from Rupert Murdoch's reporting of Hillsborough to Boris Johnson naivities.

But this is the road towards self-censorship and repression.

Right-wingers can't do it because they are the establishment and must resist tipping any winks, but when left-wingers do it it might be with a twinkle in the eye knowing they'll be back again in the future, but in doing so they have conceded defeat.

Dividing opinion into these binary oppositions is a sure way to lead progressively into hell as nobody is satisfied.

While I've met and personally dislike both of the two leading condenders for the title of political saviour (Nigel Farage and Caroline Lucas), I'd be disappointed for our politics if more parties weren't represented after the next general election - in fact I think it's good to be able to disagree (we can start by disagreeing over the significance of either of these parties trying to suggest they would have somehow made a breakthrough and are now on the road to power, ready to completely overhaul society).

Similarly I think ITV has the answer to its problems already within its' ranks. It doesn't necessarily need to be Melvyn Bragg himself, but as a pillar of the broadcasting establishment and a strongly implicated conscious political identity he sets an example of taking his subject seriously enough and with enough good humour to have the respect and authority to appeal to critics and commerce alike. Bragg knows what it is that he wants to say.

ITV on the other hand doesn't. ITV is the chicken stranded in the middle of the road not knowing which way to turn and pulling itself apart as it risks being mown down by the unstoppable juggernaut of social media (which includes blogging).

Which brings me to my pathetic attempt to summate my idea in a single sentence.

In answer to the inevitable joke 'why did the chicken cross the road?', there is only one answer: because it had reached its final destination.

Well, OK, the joke is more about going round in circles, doing the same old thing forever and failing to innovate, but that's probably a bit too subtle for most.

No comments: