Archives for July 8, 2015

And that’s what really hurts

Doing it to yourself



When I was a toddler, I reached up to a table and pulled down a pan of boiling water onto my arm.  It melted my skin, leaving ugly swollen patches from my wrist to my upper arm.  Fortunately, it missed my face, leaving untouched the beauty which attracts admiring glances to this day.  But as a child I was so embarrassed by my arm that I would avoid short-sleeved shirts.

I think of this sometimes when I see the young folk with their ugly arm tattoos.  But whereas I was only a toddler when my accident happened, these people have chosen to scar themselves for life.

It reminds me of the words to that song:

You do this to yourself, you do, and that’s what really hurts

What’s all this got to do with TV anyway?

Well, often we are  our own worst enemy.

The BBC has had to cut its budgets further because more people than expected (c. 7% of households) have given up having a TV and now only watch via catch-up. These few (but so proud) people no longer need to pay the license fee.

Why have they given up TV?  Because the BBC has practically told them to.  It has spent years pushing iPlayer – providing the very means by which these refuseniks are able to avoid having a TV.  It produces terrific iPlayer stats, but expressed as millions of ‘requests’.  So, 222 million TV requests in May. Sounds impressive.  But BBC1 alone has 300+ million hours of viewing per WEEK.   The media industry wouldn’t have such a  distorted view of on-demand viewing if numbers were reported the same way

The broadcasters seem to have spent longer selling the idea that you can make the unmissable unmissable by watching when you want than they have promoting the joys of live TV (the live TV that represents the vast bulk of their viewing anyway).  Why would they do that?  Why doesn’t it bang home the joys of watching NOW. Why doesn’t it promote the beauty of watching TV programmes on lovely big screens?

They did this to themselves.

Channel 4 has pushed 16-34s as the core audience group that matters more than any other. It was always an odd argument since young people have always watched less TV than they do later in life, and besides, many 16-34 year-olds like to watch TV with family members who are older anyway.

And does it really make sense to promote the generation with the least disposable income when they are the ones most likely to be diverted to other media?

They did this to themselves.

The TV industry allowed the nascent YouTube to show its clips.  So now your favourite TV programmes have attracted literally millions of views on that Google owned website.  And the reward? YouTube now has a virtual monopoly on on demand clips (80%+ share?), and parades itself not only as an alternative option for advertisers, but as the replacement for TV.

Well done the TV industry.

Long before YouTube invented vLogging, and provided original content, it was sustained by the broadcasters’ intellectual property.  No-one begrudges a little competition, but did we really want to entrench this monopolistic, foreign-owned, tax-avoiding behemoth?

They did this to themselves.

I worked at an American broadcaster many years ago, and at one point we faced competition from a new channel aping our content.  So we had a meeting to work out how we could ‘fuck them up’.  Because that’s how American corporatations have succeeded: by recognising the danger from competition and fucking it up as much as they can.  Eventually we bought the rival station.  We saw the same thing when Sky TV swallowed BSB.

Compare that with how the BBC operates.  Years later I was working at BBC World News, and many of us worried about the imminent arrival of Al Jazeera’s English language news station.  Sure enough, it launched in 2006 with a splash – David Frost, who had left the BBC to join Al Jazeera, had secured an interview with Tony Blair and aired it on its first day.  How did BBC World respond?  By featuring extracts from Frost’s scoop with Blair as its top story, crediting Al Jazeera for hour after hour.

There’s disrupting your competition, and there’s drawing a target on your arse to give your competition something to aim at.

We did that to ourselves.

Sometimes you have to change to be flexible to changing markets.  You can learn from the competition.  What you should never do, it seems to me, is give up your key assets too cheaply, or fight on the competition’s turf when your own pitch is better.

Don’t trade broadcast nickels for on-demand dimes, when you can benefit from both.

It’s not a gentlemanly business competing for the attention of audiences.  It’s an arms race in which the most committed competitor will win. You can’t do that if you fight with one arm tied behind your back.

No matter what your arm looks like.



It’s all on YouTube