WENGLER WONDERS… WHY ARE WE FORCING GENRES TO COMPETE?

It’s not a new thing to say that television ratings are down overall. Doctor Who is considered a huge success this season despite only occasionally rising above 5million viewers on the overnights. The Simpsons managed a feat of 12.06million viewers, ironically with an episode themed around pirating films online. However, the news over TV ratings is constantly following the evolution of viewing habits to the way we view television online, (or as they would love you to start calling it so that you see yourself as a paying customer; media consumption).

The other thing that we always comment on is the viewing figures achieved by events. The Great British Bake-Off is the BBC’s biggest non-sports hitter so far this year, with 12 million people watching (something like 10.5 on the overnights). Although it was not directly competing with The X Factor, a responsibility that the BBC has delegated to Strictly Come Dancing and Doctor Who on saturday nights. BARB always release figures about the placing of shows in termed of most-watched shows; and if you’ll permit it, here’s a breakdown of the most recently available figures (BARB Consolidated Ratings, including ITV+1, for the week ending 5th October 2014); (http://twidw.doctorwhonews.net//listing.php?bdid=52388)

Fig 1:

1. 10.67m The Great British Bake Off BBC1 1 Oct 8:00pm [8:02pm]
2. 10.15m Downton Abbey ITV 5 Oct 9:00pm [9:02pm]
3. 9.97m The X Factor (Series 11) ITV 5 Oct 8:00pm [7:59pm]
4. 9.93m Strictly Come Dancing BBC1 4 Oct 6:25pm [6:23pm]
5. 9.35m Strictly Come Dancing: The Results BBC1 5 Oct 7:20pm
6. 8.63m The X Factor (Series 11) ITV 4 Oct 8:00pm [8:02pm]
7. 8.54m Coronation Street ITV 29 Sep 7:30pm [7:31pm]
8. 8.21m Cilla ITV 29 Sep 9:00pm
9. 8.19m Coronation Street ITV 3 Oct 7:30pm [7:31pm]
10. 8.14m Coronation Street ITV 1 Oct 7:30pm [7:32pm]
11. 8.11m Coronation Street ITV 29 Sep 8:30pm [8:29pm]
12. 8.05m Coronation Street ITV 3 Oct 8:30pm [8:29pm]
13. 7.75m Eastenders BBC1 29 Sep 8:00pm [8:01pm]
14. 7.69m Eastenders BBC1 3 Oct 8:00pm [8:01pm]
15. 7.65m Eastenders BBC1 30 Sep 7:30pm [7:25pm]
16. 7.65m The X Factor (Series 11) ITV 3 Oct 9:00pm
17. 7.47m Eastenders BBC1 1 Oct 7:30pm [7:28pm]
18. 7.20m Emmerdale ITV 29 Sep 7:00pm [6:59pm]
19. 6.97m Emmerdale ITV 1 Oct 7:00pm
20. 6.91m Doctor Who BBC1 4 Oct 8:30pm [8:29pm]
21. 6.82m Emmerdale ITV 2 Oct 8:00pm [8:01pm]
22. 6.79m Emmerdale ITV 30 Sep 7:00pm
23. 6.68m Emmerdale ITV 3 Oct 7:00pm [6:59pm]
24. 6.52m Emmerdale ITV 2 Oct 7:00pm [7:02pm]
25. 6.31m Countryfile BBC1 5 Oct 6:20pm [6:19pm]

So, baring in mind that these figures are rarely accurately proven, and sourced somewhat inconsistently, let’s assume these hold up. I like to think that TV ratings are not meaningless. It makes sense to determine a show’s popularity, and thankfully, there is more regard by modern commissioners for critical reception as well, but ultimately, the biggest question for the BBC is viewing figures and repeatability, whilst commercial channels need to know the advertising revenue value.

As we can see, the Soaps and the Reality Shows have done best. Reality shows, light entertainment shows, meh. In fact, let’s call the Soaps Dramas. That’s what they are recognised as within certain awards circles, and efforts are made by production groups to call them that rather than soap operas.

Fig 2:

Dramas Entertainment Films
10.15m  Downton Abbey                        ITV   5  Oct  9:00pm [9:02pm]

8.54m  Coronation Street                    ITV   29 Sep  7:30pm [7:31pm]

8.19m  Coronation Street                    ITV   3  Oct  7:30pm [7:31pm]

8.14m  Coronation Street                    ITV   1  Oct  7:30pm [7:32pm]

8.11m  Coronation Street                    ITV   29 Sep  8:30pm [8:29pm]

8.05m  Coronation Street                    ITV   3  Oct  8:30pm [8:29pm]

7.75m  Eastenders                           BBC1  29 Sep  8:00pm [8:01pm]

7.69m  Eastenders                           BBC1  3  Oct  8:00pm [8:01pm]

7.65m  Eastenders                           BBC1  30 Sep  7:30pm [7:25pm]

7.47m  Eastenders                           BBC1  1  Oct  7:30pm [7:28pm]

7.20m  Emmerdale                            ITV   29 Sep  7:00pm [6:59pm]

6.97m  Emmerdale                            ITV   1  Oct  7:00pm

6.91m  Doctor Who                           BBC1  4  Oct  8:30pm [8:29pm]

6.82m  Emmerdale                            ITV   2  Oct  8:00pm [8:01pm]

6.79m  Emmerdale                            ITV   30 Sep  7:00pm

6.68m  Emmerdale                            ITV   3  Oct  7:00pm [6:59pm]

6.52m  Emmerdale                            ITV   2  Oct  7:00pm [7:02pm]

10.67m  The Great British Bake Off           BBC1  1  Oct  8:00pm [8:02pm]

9.97m  The X Factor (Series 11)             ITV   5  Oct  8:00pm [7:59pm]

9.93m  Strictly Come Dancing                BBC1  4  Oct  6:25pm [6:23pm]

9.35m  Strictly Come Dancing: The Results   BBC1  5  Oct  7:20pm

8.63m  The X Factor (Series 11)             ITV   4  Oct  8:00pm [8:02pm]

7.65m  The X Factor (Series 11)             ITV   3  Oct  9:00pm

6.31m  Countryfile                          BBC1  5  Oct  6:20pm [6:19pm]

8.21m Cilla                                ITV   29 Sep  9:00pm

Now, in this situation, aren’t we better off? These viewing figures don’t even regard sport programming (or maybe BARB don’t count Sport in this situation or there really was no game of football that caught more than 6 million viewers recently). The most viewed programmes don’t change, but we can actually compare the dramas with other dramas.

I don’t deny the importance (within television ratings) of the saturday night ratings, and the competition. However, there’s no way that the BBC is trying to get ITV to end The X Factor with Doctor Who fighting it. They know that for the last few years, Doctor Who has held a steady 7.4 million viewers on average per season, once consolidated. They have chosen for it to follow Strictly as that Strictly is what the BBC are using to compete with The X Factor. Unless the BBC would be considered complacent for such an attitude, they know that Doctor Who will maintain its base of loyal viewers if not on the night, then on iPlayer. ITV have a similar attitude towards Downton Abbey, but will not publicly acknowledge that The X Factor, which is constantly declining in viewers, is in fact not something people actively seek out online. This is why it gets the entire live saturday show repeated on Sunday afternoons.

If the broadcasters know that Doctor Who and The X Factor are not competing entities, why count them against each other in the consolidated figures? For a BBC sci-fi drama to be 1.5-2million viewers behind the saturday night singing fest thanks to the X Factor getting lots of tactical repeats seems to be a shame.

If I may, I’d like to make one more table. The same sets of figures, but this time, let’s split the soaps and dramas apart.

Fig 3:

Dramas Soaps Entertainment Films
10.15m  Downton Abbey ITV 5  Oct  9:00pm [9:02pm]

           

6.91m  Doctor Who                           BBC1  4  Oct  8:30pm [8:29pm]

8.54m  Coronation Street ITV   29 Sep  7:30pm [7:31pm]

8.19m  Coronation Street ITV   3  Oct  7:30pm [7:31pm]

8.14m  Coronation Street                    ITV   1  Oct  7:30pm [7:32pm]

8.11m  Coronation Street ITV   29 Sep  8:30pm [8:29pm]

8.05m  Coronation Street                    ITV   3  Oct  8:30pm [8:29pm]

7.75m  Eastenders                           BBC1  29 Sep  8:00pm [8:01pm]

7.69m  Eastenders                           BBC1  3  Oct  8:00pm [8:01pm]

7.65m  Eastenders                           BBC1  30 Sep  7:30pm [7:25pm]

7.47m  Eastenders                           BBC1  1  Oct  7:30pm [7:28pm]

7.20m  Emmerdale                            ITV   29 Sep  7:00pm [6:59pm]

6.97m  Emmerdale                            ITV   1  Oct  7:00pm

10.67m  The Great British Bake Off           BBC1  1  Oct  8:00pm [8:02pm]

9.97m  The X Factor (Series 11)             ITV   5  Oct  8:00pm [7:59pm]

9.93m  Strictly Come Dancing                BBC1  4  Oct  6:25pm [6:23pm]

9.35m  Strictly Come Dancing: The Results   BBC1  5  Oct  7:20pm

8.63m  The X Factor (Series 11)             ITV   4  Oct  8:00pm [8:02pm]

7.65m  The X Factor (Series 11)             ITV   3  Oct  9:00pm

6.31m  Countryfile                          BBC1  5  Oct  6:20pm [6:19pm]

8.21m Cilla                                ITV   29 Sep  9:00pm

In this situation, surely both channels win? They can honestly split their situation into the clear competitions. Doctor Who and Downtown Abbey are battling for first and second place. What would be lovely is if I had the viewing figures available for all the other dramas from throughout the week, (likely hovering around the 2-4 million figures). The soaps get to be more competitive, and the entertainment shows are in a more direct competition too. The whole thing feels more honest. It is surely meaningless to BBC commissioners to compare the ratings for Would I Lie To You with The X Factor, so why is it meaningful for Doctor Who to compete with it in viewing figures terms? Would it not be nice to populate this chart with all the dramas and reward them rather than letting be squished into occasional overnights reports as the top 25 broadcasts of singing, dancing and alleged dramas in soap forms appear?

Why have a chart if it has no meaning? iTunes has an overall sales chart, and then proceeds to have a chart per genre, (kindly giving indie rock bands a chance if well-organised to achieve high ‘itunes chart positions’ within the area that they are competing for attention in).

Follow my odd example of a theoretical theatre charts system here, and hopefully it will become clear in a few paragraphs time why it is illogical to discuss TV ratings without regard to genre.

If the free market’s logical conclusion with deciding the most successful cultural products is  indeed down to the questions of highest box-office in-take in the cinemas and the number one spot in music achieved with sales, downloads and youtube views, (soon to incorporate spottily streaming) then why don’t we do this with theatre? I’m really hoping that some market analyst does not take a hint from this, but imagine a scenario where West End shows had a charts system? Daringly, you could make it fair; and have theatres of a certain size declare the percentage of seats sold per show per week and the show with the highest rating in this scenario is the winner each week, with shows able to become ‘number ones.’ My method here is a fairer version of what likely happen and only regard box office intake, which would instantly advantage the bigger theatres and the bigger priced tickets. It’s illogical to make The Bloomsbury, a 500 seater compete with the Prince of Wales theatre, showing Book of Mormon every night. They compete for customers, but not for a number one spot. That’s how the theatre and culture have survived, because they are not competing, but existing and seeing how many are interested, with marketing and all that modern methodology just helping in the background.

So, if we don’t do this to the theatre, why do it to television? A new drama at the national is not competing with a lavish bright-lights West-End run of Singing in the Rain is it? The point is, we are not. We are interested in BBC vs ITV sometimes, but we all know that they will both keep these shows going until the planet runs out of oxygen, (which will ironically  on the day that Doctor Who depicts this scenario opposite an episode of The X Factor where a singer wastes the final breath of oxygen available to humans on a bum note in an otherwise pretty okay cover of some Katy Perry song from 2010).

If I were rating this for academic purposes, I would go on about the whole week’s television. However, I am just someone who beholds a Doctor Who forum obsessed viewing figures on a regular basis, and suggest that these figures are either the most meaningless things in the world, or can be wonderfully meaningful if re-contextualised.

Your choice. Go view something.

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