Once again it is that time of year. I don’t mean the changing of the seasons, the nights getting longer, the onrush of winter and that Christmas thing. No, I mean it’s X Factor/Strictly Come Dancing time again. Which one will you be watching?
Oh, please. This morning’s BBC Breakfast was full of it. Endless froth about X Factor (ITV, blue corner) and Strictly Come Dancing (BBC, red corner), with added excitement in the form of whether Spooks (BBC) and Downton Abbey (ITV) will also pull in the punters.
My jaw almost hit the floor, which would have been inconvenient since I was eating toast and supping tea at the time.
Why, I wondered, does the BBC, a publicly-funded broadcaster through the television licence, feel the need to fight for ratings with an advertising-funded network? I fail to see the point in these ratings “wars”. Who wins in the end?
My contention is no-one wins in the end. Everyone’s a loser.
Let’s leave aside the Spooks vs Downton Abbey thing, because as far as I can tell (I don’t watch either show, I freely admit) they are both well-written, well-made examples of their breed. Pitting them against each other in the same time slot seems pointless, since anyone who cares enough will simply record one of them to watch later, or catch up online—this in itself negates the whole “X million people watched it last night, so our show is bigger than your show, yah boo sucks” shenanigans, but there you go.
No-one wins in the end when two celebrity-obsessed “reality” shows are pitched at each other. Everyone is a net loser, even those of us who don’t watch them. Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor: celebrities making fools of themselves versus members of the public making fools of themselves. The latter I find particularly irksome as it feeds on sad peoples’ need to “be famous”, without needing to do any of the hard work to earn the fame. The goggle-eyed sofa-bound point and laugh. It’s gladiatorial combat, only lacking the blood and gore. In fact, I’m sure there’ll be blood and gore in a future series of X Factor. They need to keep the ratings, after all.
No-one wins because both are really just for those who enjoy air-head television. It’s style over substance. Both shows encourage viewers to phone in and “vote” for a winner, at vast expense mind you. Both are fixed, there is no real competition at all. Why viewers aren’t intelligent enough to see through this manufactured charade is beyond me, but perhaps it’s the chance of seeing a famous person making a fool of themselves, or a fool making themselves momentarily famous. I don’t really know.
All of which still fails to answer my question: why does a publicly-funded broadcaster feel the need to follow another channel down the plughole?
ITV needs people to watch the shows so they can be advertised at. It’s a commercial broadcaster. X Factor is funded by sponsorship and advertising, aimed at the goggle-eyed and sofa-bound. The entertainment is to keep you watching so you can be advertised at. That’s all it is. You are the product, not the end user.
The BBC, however, doesn’t need to appease advertisers. Who are they trying to fool? Ratings mean nothing to the BBC. They don’t need to compete, so why do they bother? I have no idea.
What I’d like to see is the BBC realising it really doesn’t have to chase ratings. I’d like to see Auntie concentrating on making the best programmes it can, without continually dumbing down to appease the stupid. There are plenty of smart people out there who enjoy a challenge in their entertainment. Stupid people have ITV, Five or anything from Sky to watch if they feel challenged by anything made for intelligent people. Make excellent programmes and smart people will watch them, I can guarantee it. Earn the television licence instead of continually underestimating the intelligence of your viewers. We’re not stupid, so please don’t assume we are.
Oh, and while we’re at it, don’t scrap BBC Four. It’s one of the few places where we smart people can still watch intelligent programming.