Analysis: Just give them the facts
The Diana effect has revived the fortunes of the TV documentary. By Paul McCann
Tuesday 09 June 1998
Last week's ITV programme on that crash (Diana: the Secrets behind the Crash) may have attracted a universal panning from critics and commentators for its reliance on the theories of Mohamed Al Fayed, but it also attracted an audience. The 9pm documentary and discussion hour attracted an average 12 million viewers according to unofficial overnight BARB ratings. This gave ITV a 53 per cent share of the available audience, which is more than respectable for that slot on the commercial broadcaster.
The obvious logic is that the populist nature of this particular programme gave it the ratings it did and that otherwise current affairs would fail in that slot. Certainly the orthodoxy of the former ITV programming director Marcus Plantin was that the only thing to put on at 9pm was drama, drama and more drama.
To squeeze past this mindset, Mr Plantin's requirement seemed to be that factual programmes had to be about sex, crime or the paranormal. Which would explain the Hollywood Women style of factual programming. Current affairs, however, is solidly banished to after News at Ten. Here, worthy programming - like a John Pilger Network First - can safely be aired to satisfy the requirements of the Independent Television Commission.
Yet once upon a time ITV did schedule meaty current affairs at 9pm and, according to the guru of BARB ratings, the researcher and television historian William Philips, they regularly achieved ratings of around 10 million. According to Philips, the Diana programme's figure is not that exceptional.
And even in the 10.40pm slot there is a strong appetite for factual shows. ITV recently attracted 7 million viewers to Savage Skies, its proper science documentary about the weather. At 9pm this programme could easily have managed an audience of 12 million.
The kicking that ITV has received from advertisers because of its ageing, down-market audience prompted the management changes of last year that brought in a new chief executive and programming director in David Liddiment. His desire to attract more ABC1 viewers has already resulted in the continuing search for a peak-time one-hour, current affairs programme. If ITV decides against moving News at Ten, and therefore cannot put the new show in that slot, it will most probably run at 9pm.
Of course the Diana effect was still felt for ITV. This is easily illustrated because the story of the Princess's death did similar things for Channel 4's Dispatches last week.
A much more hard-headed programme, Dispatches pulled apart the conspiracy theories aired by ITV and pulled in nearly 5 million viewers. The programme's weight means it usually achieves under 2 million viewers - even Cutting Edge can normally pull in three to four million.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Enrique Iglesias injured trying to catch a drone mid concert
- 2 Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, reveals new look on Annie Leibovitz shot Vanity Fair cover
- 3 Arsenal players boo chief-executive Ivan Gazidis after being told they would not get bonus for FA Cup triumph
- 4 Man on naked bike ride gets ejected after becoming aroused
- 5 UK weather: Temperatures set to soar making parts of Britain hotter than parts of the Mediterranean
The 1975 leave social-media after tweeting cryptic comic strip hinting at break up
Britain's Got Talent 2015 final: Winner Matisse had secret dog double, says owner Jules O'Dwyer
Top Gear to follow Have I Got News For You format with 'different host for each episode'
Britain's Got Talent final 2015: Ofcom receives 90 complaints about Alesha Dixon and Amanda Holden's 'revealing dresses'
Ed Sheeran debuts new love song 'Sweet Mary Jane' about relationship with weed
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Why this year's general election was the most unfair in Britain's history