Tele-wars: the next chapter

Updated Tuesday 17th February 2009

Andrew Lindridge considers whether high production values will win in the battle of the television channels

January 20th 2009 was a momentous day with the inauguration of Barack Obama as the President of the United States of America. Around the world millions of people watched this historic moment, sadly my home was not one of them.

Don't get me wrong, I had finished my work early, switched off the computer and dashed back home for the historical moment. With my cup of tea I entered our front room only to be confronted by every parent’s nightmare, my son was demanding to watch his favourite children’s television programme ‘Big cook, little cook’, whilst my daughter was demanding that she should be allowed to watch for the umpteenth time ‘High School Musical’ on DVD. In the middle of all of this was my mother-in-law, trying to convince everyone that she should watch her daily drama on Zee TV (an Indian language television channel). Faced with a barrage of ‘I never get to see what I want’ from three people, I made a swift exit to the kitchen to console myself with a packet of biscuits. TV screens in a studio gallery Creative commons image Icon ti.mo under CC-BY-NC-SA licence under Creative-Commons license Nothing on? Screens on a production gallery

If I had been able to see Barack Obama’s inauguration I would have been spoilt for choice on what television channel to watch. Thanks to the magic of cable TV I could have watched it on BBC 1 as well as the BBC news channel, along with many different news and language channels. That’s the joy of cable television; there are channels dedicated to history, drama, cooking, news, music, ethnic minorities, sports, films and so on. Central to this barrage of choice is Rupert Murdoch and News International Corporation, which through Sky television, led the beginning of Britain’s television revolution.

Rupert Murdoch, however, does not believe the revolution in British television is over. A regular critic of the BBC, which he argues is a subsidised, state funded monolith, he calls for the BBC to be forced to compete as a commercial organisation.

This would mean an end to state funding and potentially the inclusion of advertisements on BBC television channels. Compounding the BBC’s problems has been the growth of differing television channels and the continued growth of DVD sales (High School Music included). What then is the future for British television?

Those fearing an invasion of American television programmes and the demise of home grown television shows need not panic. After a decade or so of questionable television programmes, the future of British television can be encapsulated in one show: Dr Who. When it was launched five years ago it was BBC Wales, a regional outpost of the BBC, which undertook what it described as the biggest gamble in its history.

Derided in the 1980s as old fashioned, Dr Who had been off British televisions for nearly twenty years. The result? Four series later, Dr Who regularly pulls in audiences of 10 million viewers and often accounts for over 70% of British television viewers when aired. The moral of this story? People will continue to watch and want high quality television that offers family appeal. To parody Barack Obama (who parodied Bob the Builder) can quality British television survive? Yes it can!

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