I wrote recently here that Google is likely to become one of our biggest paymasters in the future of the TV production industry, but this still sounds like crystal ball-gazing, or science fiction. Right now, most predictions for TV watching in the future, other than the licence funded BBC, are based on viewers paying a little – or a lot – for what they want to watch. And it looks like they want better than they’re getting just now.
When television viewers can choose what they want to view and when, they have less tolerance for low-budget, vapid TV wallpaper. Adam Curtis, maker of The Power Of Nightmares and Century of the Self, recently told C21 Media that the BBC iPlayer is one of the things changing the state of play for documentary production, because people can watch docs again and again, which means they can be “as complicated as you want.” This discerning viewing goes far beyond BBC iPlayer – any digital TV box with a recording facility gives viewers the same power of involvement and will be the kiss of death to patronising telly.
David Cuff is Virgin Media’s Commercial Director, and I recently heard him tell a room full of interactive TV producers that, “there is a flight towards quality. People are watching better quality programmes, for which they are prepared to pay”. But this isn’t just about affluent viewers getting the good stuff. We can still do the traditional thing and pay through our shopping bills by watching adverts, they’ll just be better targeted to each of us. Advertisers don’t really have a problem with smaller audiences if they can get a better focus on just the people they really want to reach.