Over the past few years TV budgets have been increasingly squeezed forcing channel bosses to come up with ‘clever’ ways to fill the schedules while spending less.
The most obvious way they do this is repeats – not just reshowing cheap imports and ancient comedies, but same-week repeats of new shows which they pass off as a favour to viewers who may have missed the original broadcast.
Another recent trick has to been to cut the numbers of episodes per season – the BBC has now taken to commissioning (often co-commissioning as it increasingly works with international partners to mask the effects of budget cuts) dramas with an odd number of episodes – instead of 6 or 8 episodes we get 5 (seasons one of The Fall and Line of Duty) or 7 (Banished and The Shadow Line).
And then there’s something perhaps even worse then being stingy with the episode count – padding out a series with a ‘best of’ closing episode.
Fans of QI, Graham Norton and Would I lie To You? all get cheated with the promise of a new series which is at least one episode shorted than billed
Sitting down to watch an episode that’s labelled as ‘new’ in the programme guide only to find out its a rehash of stuff you’ve already watched or wasn’t good enough to make the show in the first place is a massive let down.
This sort of thing is likely to get worse unless one of two things happen – the money available to broadcasters massively increases, or TV execs stop placing the number of channels in their portfolio ahead of the quality of the content they broadcast.
The first is pretty unlikely – the BBC’s licence fee isn’t going to rise dramatically and advertisers are no longer beholden to a couple of big broadcasters to push their latest shiny so can shop around for the cheapest price.
But the second could eventually come to pass – while ITV has launched two new channels in the past 12 months, the BBC is currently working towards axing BBC Three with some of the savings promised to help boost drama budgets on BBC One.
If the result is a noticeable increase in quality and viewers, it’s possible other broadcasters could follow suit and join the BBC in retrenching around a smaller number of better channels rather than spreading their few gems across multiple outlets where audiences struggle to find them.