When TV was a big deal
So, I stumbled across C4’s coverage of the Grand National horserace this afternoon. I saw the pre-show, the race itself and the presentations. It was an OK show, helped by an exciting race. But it was no big deal.
I’m having to explain that to my 1970’s self. The Grand National on BBC One was a huge televisual event for the whole Webster-Wise family. We’d settle down just after lunch when Granddad King would arrive. Cups of tea would be served by Nan Wise (Granddad Wise didn’t approve of horse racing and so would be out at his football). The preliminary races would be watched. More tea or orange squash and biscuits would be digested whilst Mr.K expressed his disgust at jockey Lester Piggott – this was a little odd, Piggott being a flat racing rider and therefore not involved in jump events like the National. Eventually the main race would be run & observed by all. Once over, more tea & sandwiches, perhaps something stronger for the grown-ups.
But the main thing was the whole family sat down, or stood around sharing the experience. And by no means was this a unique event. Throughout the year our family would get together for the FA Cup Final, the Eurovision Song Contest, Miss World, the much maligned Top of the Pops, and of course a full days viewing at xmas. I can remember seeing the legendary 1977 Morecambe & Wise Show, and I remember my grandparents, aunts and uncles joining us.
Please tell me if I’m wrong, but that wouldn’t happen now. Why? In those days there were three regular TV stations broadcasting in the UK. We had two TV sets, the big colour set in our living room and a black & white portable – and that typically only used if one of family was feeling unwell. The VCR was a couple of years away so you watched your favourite show when it was first transmitted or not at all. You might get a re-run some time later if you were particularly fortunate.
Modern TV isn’t all bad. But it’s become so diluted with a zillion channels and a quad-zillion ways of watching same. You don’t have to be in your front room at a certain time on a certain day to tune in. You watch your show and perhaps use social media to share the experience. But perhaps you’ll only be speaking to the converted.
Therefore, I would say that TV viewing isn’t dying. But family viewing is dead, thanks to a decision taken by the main UK stations (BBC & ITV) to remove childrens broadcasting from its daily schedules. They’ve been placed in the ghetto of separate digital stations. Once upon a time (as they used to say on kids shows) the British TV day ran as follows: Morning – nothing but the test pattern or televised lessons for school. Lunchtime – news & something for the very young to watch with a parent. Afternoon, the test card or maybe live sport in the summer. Programmes regular for start at tea-time with something else for wee ones, then something for their older siblings to watch once they’d finished their homework. Then… and this is the important thing… shows mainly for children but that grown-ups could enjoy, a game show or a magazine followed up with some news then a grown-up show the kids could still connect with, a talent show or a soap. But the point was the whole family was hooked into watching together until bedtime.
Cut the link between children’s viewing and that of their parents and where will your future viewers come from? Sure, you can put falling ratings down to your shows “being enjoyed on a multitude of platforms” but how do you explain to your sponsor why no-ones buying their car/cat food/carpet/carpet cleaner?
You have been watching…