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BBC and Television Genres in Jeopardy

Jeremy Tunstall

This book considers British television from the point of view of executive producers: the people who employ the workforce and are in charge of making all television series. The focus of the book is twenty-one separate genres, at least seven of which are in significant decline – namely current affairs, education, natural history, science, arts, children’s and religion. Some other public service genres – such as documentary, history and travel – are in good health. The most commercially successful genres include formatted factual entertainment series, such as cooking, homes, quiz/game, reality and sport.
The author completed 150 interviews not only with executive producers but with BBC and ITV channel controllers and top genre commissioners. Playing a supporting role are another 200 interviews, which were the basis of the author’s 1993 book, Television Producers. Since 1990, and especially since 2008, British television production has faced financial challenges. Meanwhile, BSkyB, Virgin Media and Channel Five are American controlled, and most of the larger London ‘independent’ production companies are now American or Euro-American owned and operated. Public service broadcasting in general, and BBC television in particular, are threatened with probable further decline. This book offers new insights into the state of British television through the eyes of those working on the inside.
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Chapter 2: UK Commercial Television Trembles

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CHAPTER 2

UK Commercial Television Trembles

Commercial television (of various kinds) attracts about seventy per cent of all UK TV viewing. The two main ways of funding this commercial television are advertising and subscription. The licence fee is reserved for the BBC (and its thirty per cent of viewing).

Despite the huge growth of the internet and of handheld devices, the typical Briton still views television programming for about twenty-six hours a week compared with twenty-one hours in 1982. This includes about eighteen hours a week of viewing commercial TV (against eight hours watching BBC). Viewing on mobile phones and other mobile devices has largely been added to time spent viewing conventional television. This parallels the continuing strong UK performance of Hollywood TV, to which has been added the strong UK performance of Silicon Valley.

ITV (Independent Television) had a monopoly of UK commercial television for twenty-seven years (1955–82). The legislative intention was to combine the best of the BBC with the best elements of early 1950s American television. In the early 1950s the US television industry was still located in New York and the programming was produced by advertising professionals. Madison Avenue advertising was deeply implanted into the programming with, for example, the comedy star smoking the sponsor’s cigarettes and stressing the health benefits. The London 1953–4 legislative process focused heavily on reducing such advertising abuses, but largely ignored programming issues. However, after the Pilkington Committee report (1962), ITV...

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