Nostalgia for Saturday night television

 by Martin Belam, 7 August 2003

You may know I've rarely had a good word to say about the Evening Standard - except their championing of the Trees for London scheme - but yesterday Peter Bazalgette [Endemol/Channel 4] guested for Andrew Neil in their media column.

His main article was "Why we're turning off Saturday tv"

"There is no longer a mass market of viewers all prepared to do the same thing. We have more disposable wealth than ever before and we know what we want to spend it on: DVDs, pay-per-view movies, video rentals or an evening out."

It echoes one of my friends sentiments - "there are only 52 saturdays in a year. don't waste one". Bazalgette goes on to say:

"No programme will again attract a regular audience of 12 million on Saturdays. Seven million viewers - all too rare - now marks a programme out as a huge hit."

And he is spot on. It put me in mind of a recent thread on the BBCi Points of View messageboard bemoaning that if Morecambe and Wise used to get 27 million viewers for their Christmas special and The Office only gets x million viewers it proves that modern comedy is rubbish, and the BBC should go back to making comedy's like in ye olden days. But the only thing nowadays that is going to entice 10+ million viewers to unite in watching terrestrial television channels en masse are sporting events (England in the World Cup, Tim losing at Wimbledon) or marriage and misfortune in the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family.

This is a natural development from the splintering of the entertainment media, and rightly so. When I was growing up we had a television that could give you three channels, and you got them by effectively turning a dial. I can remember watching the launch of Channel 4 because it was an exciting event that increased the number of channels available in the UK by 33%. In the early 80's the idea of actually broadcasting television in the 6am - 9am slot lead to new ITV franchises. But we don't live in the 70's or 80's anymore, and it is ridiculous to judge viewing figures against that scale.

And the same applies not just to Saturday night television but radio as well. A big story this week has been that the reach of Radio 1 has dropped below the magic figure 10 million listeners. Of course the station wants to retain its reach, but given that it is aimed at 15-25 year olds and that basically one in six of the population listen to it, that seems like a pretty healthy reach to me. Especially considering the increased competition the station faces from commercial stations on digital satellite/cable television, on FM radio and on the internet.

1 Comment

Of course, this all made sense before Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing and the genius of showing the bad auditions for the X-Factor reinvented family viewing on a Saturday night.

Let's just gloss over Ant'n'Dec and their dodgy phone scams, though, shall we?

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