A few weeks ago, I made the rare decision to cast my eyes over a TV listings magazine …
Every time I access the programme guide on my television, there appear to be additional channels, most of which I have never heard of. The same applies to listing magazines that strive to list as many channels as possible in the limited space at their disposal. This usually means that the font size is sometimes barely legible and often only a certain time frame of programmes is listed. Presumably, this is an editorial decision based on an assumption of when their readers are likely to tune into the channels. When I was growing up, there were just three terrestrial channels broadcasting in the United Kingdom. How times change!
One cannot argue that the advent of digital television has improved broadcasting quality considerably. Besides the usual standard definition transmissions, many channels are also available in high definition depending upon location and the means by which one receives the broadcasts. Additionally, especially in the UK, the mainstream broadcasters all provide catch-up services. When these first started, they were simply a means of watching programmes that had been missed and within a specified time frame. However, nowadays, most offer the facility of watching boxed sets of programmes from the broadcasters’ archives and, occasionally, watching a programme before it appears in the schedules. On top of this, countless channels in the UK are also available on time shift, usually one hour behind the original transmission, accessible via smart tv sets or online. With the exception of the BBC, who have actually reduced the number of channels they offer due to financial constraints, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 offer numerous off-shoot channels. Whilst some of these have a ‘theme’, a target audience or a specific genre (eg 5USA) others are little more than a mishmash of programmes with many old series broadcast at random and not in chronological order.
By definition, there are very few or new programmes on these secondary channels and they are a platform for repeats but therein lies the main problem. I’m sure I’m not alone in being angry when mainstream channels show repeats up to a year after first transmission so sometimes it is nice to have the opportunity to catch up with old favourites a few years down the line by watching these off-shoot channels. Sadly, the television controllers appear to have no thought or respect for their viewers as programmes are often grouped together as well as some being shown up to three times each day. The end result is programmes being shown out of order and the same series being shown on a loop over several years. It all seems very short-sighted as there are literally hundreds of excellent drama series from yesteryear that would make excellent viewing rather than the same few series being shown ad infinitum.
Other lesser known channels sometimes offer a day filled with episodes of the same programme, ideal if one is an addict and has nothing better to do with one’s time. Another annoying occurrence is when one finds different channels showing episodes of the same series. The CSI and NCIS franchises are a prime example, appearing on no fewer than seven different channels on the same day. One might expect channels with the word ‘movie’ in their title to show films, but strangely, this is not always the case. I suspect it is a question of desperation as channels try to find programmes to fill their schedules. So many broadcast virtually around the clock, undoubtedly making it difficult finding suitable material at times, bearing in mind what the channel is licensed to show. The scheduling of programmes is often illogical and confusing with no indication of episode or series number so it is impossible to know whether or not one has seen the programme previously.
The listings magazine at my disposal lists 61 English-speaking channels (excluding +1 services) available to me if I were to subscribe to a broadcast provider. In addition, there are fifteen sports channels plus many more which aren’t listed because of limited space such as children”s, so-called music and shopping channels. Firstly, there is enough dross on the free-to-air channels without me considering parting with money to access many of the lesser-known channels. Secondly, who on earth watches all these programmes, as there are insufficient hours in a day to achieve most things? So far, I’ve concentrated on conventional tv broadcasting, but in recent years, the likes of Netflix, HBO and Amazon Prime have burst on to the scene, all trying to persuade people to subscribe monthly. Whilst these providers do offer some unique programming, the majority comprises old material, much of which emanates from UK and US mainstream broadcasters. If these new services are factored in, then so-called viewing choice goes through the roof. I use the word ‘choice’ somewhat guardedly as in reality, there is not an awful lot of variety as the listings so ably illustrate.
I also have access to Spanish digital terrestrial tv, of which the least said, the better! The number of channels available in this part of the country appears somewhat limited and is less than half those provided in the UK. Furthermore, so far as terrestrial tv is concerned, they don’t provide time-shift channels but I am unable to comment on satellite tv here in Spain. Most of the programming is dire and even makes some of the schedules on UK digital channels look appealing and that really is saying something.
The advent of digital tv has been a mixed blessing in my opinion. Notwithstanding the much better picture quality and cross device accessibility, the irony is that programming standards have plummeted as a result. This is inevitable with so many channels at the disposal of viewers. To me, it would make sound financial sense to reduce the number of channels, thereby eradicating so much programme duplication and paying far more attention to the broadcast schedules by focusing on the viewer and providing a logical transmission stream. As things stand, I perceive that television as we know it has a limited lifespan as viewing habits continue to change. Broadcast executives need to regenerate the medium before it is too late and viewers switch off in their droves. Even now, with considerable choice at my disposal, I struggle almost daily to find things of interest that I actually want to watch and will withhold my interest.