Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Same But Different

So Holby Blue got off to a reasonable 5.4 million viewers last night. Reasonable by today's standards where it seems like around 5 million is the benchmark. And yes there is a lot more audience fragmentation than say even 10 years ago what with multi-channel, games, internet and binge drinking all available to the much coveted 16-35 age group.

Which leads me to believe it is the same 5 million people watching the networks. At least I would definitely suspect a large percentage of those 5 million are the same ones watching Holby and Casualty and The Bill , and I guess that is why another straightforward police procedural got the nod from the powers that be. Well that and the names behind it. No one at the BBC is going to get sacked commissioning a Tony Jordan project.

But here is the strange dichotomy. You go into any indy producer right now and they'll tell you they want groundbreaking original drama [don't they always] Go in with an idea like Holby Blue [which has virtually nothing to do with Holby other than the name which is really just a marketing tool to hook in those 5 million Casualty, Holby and The Bill viewers] and they'd look like you'd handed them a piss flavoured milkshake.

See, there's a huge gap between what a lot of people would like to make and what the networks are willing to make, despite a lot of protestations from them. And that is all about risk. Long running drama and recurring series are the backbone of the networks. Commercial channels live or die by their advertising revenue. Simple as that. I posted way back that ITV were touting that they were looking for the same groundbreaking fresh drama as the indies are constantly talking about. That may be true so long as it is groundbreaking fresh drama that attracts at least 5 million viewers or else you can see it moved to 11.30 on a Monday night pdq and then quietly cancelled!

The BBC, becoming ever more ratings conscious, do the same, witness The Innocence Project. In reality as far as recurring series are concerned what the networks really want is 'The Same But Different' Life On Mars gets a lot of kudos as reinventing the procedural drama, but in essence it was a bog standard police procedural set in the 70's with a neat twist. The Same But Different. Silent Witness is Quincey MD for the 21st Century. The Same But Different. Spooks is a hight tech 'The Sandbaggers'' 'The Same But Different'' The Royal is Holby forty years ago. The Same But Different. Waterloo Road is Teachers but less funny. The Same But Different. Holby Blue is The Bill. The same.......well that's it really.

I undertand the networks' position. TV is a very expensive business and a major flop can stall a career. But I can't help thinking there is an air of rabbits staring at headlights. They see a diminishing audience and don't really know what do do about it other than try to hang on to the 5 million loyal viewers. By giving them the same but different.


Jamie said...

Too true.

David Bishop said...

Don't forget Club 18-30 syndrome: everybody wants returning TV drama series that target the 18-30 deomgraphic, so you get The Innocence Project or Party Animals.

The problem is 18 to 30-year-olds are the last people likely to buy into appointment viewing drama, so shows aimed at this demographic seem to get lower ratings than, say, New Tricks.

wcdixon said...

Well said...but now what.

Hey - how large is the population there that they're drawing that 5.1 mil?

As in, the pop in Canada is around 30 million...but the highest rated sitcom gets around 1.5 million viewers on average. The highest rated Canuck drama hour long..."gulp"...between 300,000 - 800,000. Pretty sad actually...they're all watching House or Lost or Greys or Heroes.

Just curious...

David Bishop said...

UK population is about 60 million, so that's about double Canada. If one in twelve people watched Holby Blue last night, that means 2.5 million should be watching homemade Canadian drama. How much of an issue is the English-French language factor?

Due to regional variations Holby Blue isn't being broadcast in Scotland (population: 5 million, a 12th of the UK total) until later this week. So does the 5 million viewers include a guess-timate of how many Scots will watch Holby Blue? Or is the Scottish element not included?

Ughhh. My brain hurts now.

wcdixon said...

Yeah...that 2 - 2.5 number would be expected, but the only thing that gets remotely close to that is Hockey Night in Canada once a week, during hockey season.

Last year, one network put a goal of a million, and was shamed when neither of its two homegrown dramas drew even close...and they were both actually pretty good.

English Dave said...

Dave, I disagree. 18-30 are the demographic most likely to buy into appointment TV. The trouble is there is not that much appointment TV out there for them.

Jaded and Cynical said...

Some big points there, Dave. I wish they were getting a wider airing.

Those of us on the periphery kid ourselves that a successful career depends on talent, originality and having a distinctive voice.

So much for the theory.

What broadcasters actually pay for is familiar, formulaic drama, delivered by the safest possible pair of hands.

That's how we end up with programmes that keep the same 5m people happy night after night, while the remaining 50m of us have nothing to watch.

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