Feeds

Why British TV drama is crap – and why this matters to tech firms

Platforms, platforms everywhere. And nothing to watch

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

The bottom line

The new BBC Director General has a mandate to increase income from sales overseas. The BBC Trust has (correctly) identified that the BBC’s sales division, WorldWide, needs to do much better. Damn right it does. Although the top line is £1bn a year extra on top of the £3bn the BBC earns from the compulsory licence fee, this is misleading. It isn’t £1bn programme makers can spend. Profit margins are tiny at 15 per cent, which bears thinking about. WorldWide sells merchandising, finished shows and formats. The profit margin on merchandising is around 30 per cent, the finished shows are a sunken cost and formats are an intangible, which should have a profit margin of 100 per cent minus a long lunch and a few trebles (all round).

So the idea of WorldWide is a good one – and should reduce the licence fee. But in reality, the licence fee payer is really propping up a spectacularly incompetent sales operation.

What the success of The Wire and The Sopranos taught us is that you don’t need to generalise the details for it to be a hit. The Wire’s dialogue is difficult to follow – subtitles help – but the dense conversations are not insurmountable obstacle. Living in the United States, I quickly discovered how much people love the peculiarities that anchor something in a local context, and give it a specific flavour. Blackout is made-for-export, but has all the British quirks written out. It’s as if a committee went through it and removed anything – apart from the miserable weather, for the sun never shines – that says: “This is from Britain.” Apart from Ecclestone, it exports everything that’s bad about British TV drama – including moody cinematography as a compensation for crap writing. Out of Line of Duty or Blackout, which one will add more to the BBC’s bottom line? Let’s hope it’s the former.

A glossy new platform – but where's the tasty content?

There’s another reason the American dramas are so good and ours are so poor. Recently, I described how copyright material needs technology, and vice versa, and has produced a ‘virtuous circle’ to the mutual benefit of both technology companies and creative industries – something that’s now slipped off the rails. (Google gives nothing back).

Well, one nice part of this is the way new technology allows creative people do break new ground. In fact, it is improvements in technology that allow programme-makers to break new ground, and on US cable channels, they have done just that. The Sopranos' sound design, with its overlapping dialogue and sound effects, has been compared to that of Citizen Kane – the film you can famously watch with your eyes closed because Orson Welles knew all the tricks of radio. But this was possible because of the much-improved sound reproduction on TVs, which have become home theatres.

Similarly, The Wire is a good example of creators stretching the audience, knowing that they have DVD and TiVO to allow you to replay the important bits you might have missed. What results is the opposite of ‘dumbing down’. We’ve seen talk ad nauseum for over a decade about ‘TV platforms’ but with only lip service paid to the idea that content is king, and the TV technologies are unsellable without it. As if we need any more proof, Sky’s decision to unbundle its Sky Movies service and pipe it through YouView is now seen as the saviour of the BBC-spawned set top box venture. YouView was supposed to be a bit of technology that kept the UK's terrestrial public service broadcasters up to date in the internet age. It's now the gateway for Sky to expand into homes that don't want cable or a satellite dish. If the PSBs think this is jolly unfair, then they need to make better programmes: more Sherlocks and LoDs

Asked recently, professional TV critic AA Gill said that the reason British drama is rubbish is because the BBC or ITV doesn’t spend enough. American drama clocks in at $3m per episode while the BBC tries to make do on $1m. But this can’t be the whole picture. The culture of advertising, the treating of the audience as dummies who are impressed by camera angles, the patchy writing, the right-on-ness, and much else all make a new British drama well worth a miss. And in any case, $1m is a fair old whack: Christopher Nolan launched his career with a film that cost £3,000 and is completely gripping. The talent net has to widen, commissioning committees must be moved on.

So perhaps Line of Duty is the end of an era, and the start of a better one. What do you think? ®

HP ProLiant Gen8: Integrated lifecycle automation

More from The Register

next story
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
White? Male? You work in tech? Let us guess ... Twitter? We KNEW it!
Grim diversity numbers dumped alongside Facebook earnings
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
Bose says today is F*** With Dre Day: Beats sued in patent battle
Music gear giant seeks some of that sweet, sweet Apple pie
Amazon Reveals One Weird Trick: A Loss On Almost $20bn In Sales
Investors really hate it: Share price plunge as growth SLOWS in key AWS division
Dude, you're getting a Dell – with BITCOIN: IT giant slurps cryptocash
1. Buy PC with Bitcoin. 2. Mine more coins. 3. Goto step 1
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.