Trendspotting #21

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The Future Is - Rolf?

A viewing revolution with grave implications for the future of our evening telly has been spotted by Broadcast magazine's ratings guru William Phillips. Through an analysis of last year's peak-time viewing figures Phillips has identified a move away from all the usual ratings bankers. Films no longer bring in 10 million-plus audiences, LWT has lost its touch, with studio-based light entertainment shows such as Man O Man dying a death. This is why soaps such as Coronation Street and Emmerdale have been increased in frequency and stretched like sticking plaster over the holes in the ITV schedules. But now even the soaps are flagging, dropping from an average share of 60 per cent of viewing to 56 per cent in the past 12 months. "Observational" programmes such as Driving School and factual programmes such as Animal Hospital are nibbling at the dominance of Coronation Street and The Bill. The situation comedy is dead on ITV and very little sport is now affordable. Where is ITV to go next?


Marketing people agonise for months about the correct television strategy for their products. Should it be a burst of 30-second ads followed by lots of 10-second versions? A mixture of sponsorship and ads? Chances are they shouldn't bother. Figures last week showed that 51 per cent of 11-15 year olds claim to have seen cigarette advertising on television in the past six months - they, like lots of other people, do not discriminate between a proper TV advertisement and the sponsorship that is slapped onto a snooker player or a racing car. Orwell was right, advertising is no more than banging a stick inside a swill bucket.


The television revolution, otherwise known as BSkyB, has long been defended on the grounds that it is giving people what they want. As with many things that involve paying for what you once got free, pay TV was created in the name of "choice". Yet people don't want to pay through the nose to watch Evander Holyfield get his ear bitten off: research last week showed that 81 per cent of adults believe it is a bad idea that cable and satellite channels get to broadcast major sporting events and films exclusively - up from 69 per cent who thought so in 1995. Over three-quarters of those surveyed thought that the Heritage Secretary Chris Smith should extend the list of sports currently protected from exclusive pay-TV broadcast. Yet somehow we don't think New Labour will be giving the people what they want.


The latest edition of Sky Facts, the handy information booklet put out by BSkyB, answers critics of its coverage of sport with the fact that less than 2 per cent of Sky Sport's coverage was originally available on terrestrial TV. But that's hardly surprising given that this year the broadcaster's three sports channels will beam 14,000 hours of sport into a fifth of the nation's living rooms. There wasn't that much demand for blow-by-blow coverage of Britain's basketball championships - but people are getting a bit miffed at missing out on the current British Lions Tour. As part of its defence Sky Facts asserts, "During the first five years of BSkyB's exclusive live coverage of Premier League football, attendances at matches rose by 30 per cent." Some people will go to any lengths to avoid putting a dish on the roof.


Britain may just be about to become a little more grown up. The Consumer affairs minister, Nigel Griffiths, has described as absurd the restrictions that prevent tampons and other sanitary products from being advertised before the 9pm watershed. Britain was the last country in Europe able to deal with such advertising and obviously somewhere someone still feels it is something that should be hidden from the kids. Scrap that prissy restriction and maybe we can drop the clinical marketing-speak shorthand "sanpro" that prevents people mentioning what they're talking about.


Supermarkets have discovered that they can increase their sales of newspapers by 10 per cent if instead of leaving the papers lying flat on the bottom shelf of the newsstand section they put them in stands that display them vertically. There is now a mad scramble among supermarkets to get their newspapers displayed vertically according to Media Week. The wet fish counter is the next to get the vertical display treatment.

Paul McCann