Raymond Snoddy on Broadcasting

Back the BBC to hang on to its viewers in the multi-channel age

It's not often you look to senior BBC executives for even a trace of common sense. Too often thinking is dominated by a grandiose plan, produced with or without the assistance of management consultants. And there is an orthodox view of the future, usually tied up with the institutional survival of the corporation.

These days much of it is to do with iPods, podcasts, IPTV, on-demand television, specialist genre channels aimed at narrowly defined age groups, combined with repeated exhortations to keep hitting the red interactive button.

And then along comes Peter Fincham, the controller of BBC1 and the man behind programmes like Jane Eyre, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? and Robin Hood, with a few ideas that confound conventional wisdom.

The trick for the future, according to Fincham, is programmes that are "bigger, deeper and more demanding, that ask more of the viewer". Nothing wrong per se with Changing Rooms, but what we are talking about here is the difference between such programmes and Who Do You Think You Are?, which takes the viewer that bit further by stimulating a nationwide interest in genealogy.

His next offerings will include The State Within, a political thriller set in the UK's Washington embassy, and dramatisations of Little Dorrit and The Passion forEaster 2008.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, attention spans for serious material, he believes, are actually going up. The BBC executive is also particularly pleased that the corporation has managed to re-invent the concept of family viewing, at least on Saturdays, with the likes of Dr Who and Strictly Come Dancing.

Such a thing was thought impossible - television sets in different rooms, not to mention computers and electronic games consoles, meant the family audience was fractured for ever. But Fincham, who has spent most of his career in independent production, goes further and has come up with the most revolutionary doctrine of all.

Fincham believes that people will continue to want "mixed genre" channels like BBC1 and BBC2, and indeed ITV1, as far as the eye can see.

"This stuff matters and it's for the future too and not just the past," says Fincham, who is convinced his mixed-genre strategy will survive the plan to move all of the UK over to multi-channel digital television by 2012.

Some believe moving everyone to digital will change everything and usher in a new world where the audience will start constructing their own schedules from all over the place and that the main traditional channels will begin to look like sad relics compared with their former selves. But there is no reason in logic why it should be so.

More than 70 per cent of the UK population already has access to multi-channel television - anything from 30 to 400 channels - and many of them have had such access for years. Yet most of the time the five main channels command the majority share of viewing. Choice is good but for some unaccountable reason a lot of people still seem to like original, first-run production with high production values made especially for them and prefer it, most of the time, to specialised re-tread channels.

It is not entirely clear why this situation should change utterly when the final 30 per cent of the population who have ignored, in the case of subscription television, 15 years of intense marketing pressure, are finally dragooned into moving to digital by government fiat. Almost by definition they are more likely than most to prefer the traditional channels, whatever devices they are carried on.

All the evidence does indeed suggest that the main growth in the run-up to the end of analogue broadcasts will come from Freeview, the digital terrestrial service. And audience figures show that those with Freeview are more likely than Sky subscribers to spend more time with the traditional channels, particularly the BBC offerings.

There is no guarantee that Fincham's optimism about the future of mixed channels will be proved right. Consumer behaviour is changing rapidly - particularly among the young - and new digital devices come down the road almost on a weekly basic. A year ago, who would have forecast that a service of video clips, some of startling banality, would attract 65,000 new clips a day and turn into a business worth $1.6bn (£849m)?

Television executives often bemoan the fact that their children seem to watch hardly any conventional television at all, still less engage with Strictly Come Dancing or even Little Dorrit.

For now, however, the Fincham vision that mixed-genre, original television is not entirely dead seems a perfectly decent working hypothesis - but there are funding implications for the BBC.

ITV may not be in terminal decline but there is no question that the rise of interactive advertising could increasingly bite into its advertising revenues.

In other countries the outlook for commercial television is just as difficult. Last week's announcement that NBC plans to axe 7,000 jobs and cut spending on both news and prime-time programming is an eloquent insight into where we could be heading. Most alarmingly, NBC says it will no longer be showing expensive dramas and comedies at 8pm. Instead there will be cheaper game-shows.

Against such a background, a properly funded BBC becomes so much more important.

It is time for the Government to stop the game-playing and agree a licence fee generous enough to ensure that original, mixed-genre television services of high quality survive for the next decade.

Ray Snoddy presents the BBC's feedback show 'Newswatch'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Ashdown Group: .NET Developer : ASP.NET , C# , MVC , web development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits - see advert: Ashdown Group: .N...

Guru Careers: 3D Package Designer / 3D Designer

£25 - 30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an exceptional 3D Package Designer / 3...

Guru Careers: Interior Designer

£Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a strong Middleweight / Senior Inte...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing