TV is great, we all know this. So why deny the best TV to people who simply want to watch it?
Don’t worry, this isn’t a rant about why TV should be free, we all know that’s impossible. The BBC needs the license fee to keep making top quality, original shows. That it’s still the staple diet of most of our TV is a fantastic result.
The commercial channels also need to carry ads. Without those annoying breaks, Channel 4 wouldn’t be able to green-light amazing shows like Misfits and Shameless and ITV couldn’t go to town on it's talent contests and soaps.
The terrestrial channels we all know and love though are all under the big shadow of Sky. The digital TV juggernaut looms over the old guard, just waiting for them to stumble, or for a break out success. Channel 4 in particular has felt the pinch, mainly with their imports.
When Channel 4 brought over Lost and found themselves a smash hit on their hands, it was only a matter of time before Sky grabbed the show and threw it onto their premium service. Exactly the same thing has happened with True Blood and Glee, two of Channel 4’s biggest ratings pullers stolen away by Murdoch.
Putting the shows behind the pay wall isn’t a key to success for anyone. Take Glee for example. On E4 it was pulling around 1.5-2 million viewers at some points. Even at the low end, it never dipped below that magic million.
The first year on Sky though has seen the viewing numbers take an expected dip, now roughly between 600,000 and 900,000. And even then it’s one of the channel’s highest rating shows. Those shows unfortunate to be on Sky’s prestige Atlantic channel that don’t have the words ‘Game’ and ‘Thrones’ in the title are cursed to get around half that number.
It’s not just drama though. Sky’s recent purchase of the rights to show Formula One motor racing came with a surprising public backlash, something that curiously never happens when a favourite drama gets ripped off free to air TV and placed on a premium channel.
Sky’s kleptomaniac approach to TV unfortunately hurts the shows most of all. The current exclusivity of Sky Atlantic to Sky’s own customers is largely the reason for the modest viewing figures, with rival digital TV provider Virgin Media chief exec Neil Berkett claiming that Sky are being “Unrealistic” over the channel.
Those viewers who can’t get the new channel, or see their old shows any more, won’t flock to Sky’s service like they thought they would. Despite the massive carrots of Formula One and Sky Atlantic now on offer, Sky’s annual take-up of customers has actually been marginally slowing of late. Simply on the subject of Formula One, the BBC, despite most of their talent being poached by Sky, still hold a ratings advantage over the new subscription based channel.
Keeping great shows like Blue Bloods and Awake to yourself may be a great bullet point in a sales flyer, or a reason for a customer to re-subscribe, but in the end it just means less people see them.
Sky isn’t totally evil though. Their investment into UK productions over the last few years has been sizeable, with comedies such as Starlings, Stella and drama Hit & Miss all the product of Sky’s pocket money. And for all of its questionable aspects, Sky Atlantic remains an excellent channel.
Also not to be forgotten are their contributions to the world of sport, which have been little less than Earth shaking, single handily creating the Premier League and changing UK football forever.
Sky’s willingness to take a chance on new shows is commendable, but that’s only what the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have been doing for decades. For them to really start to get ‘good-guy’ kudos, they’ll have to start doing a whole lot more and stop stealing everyone’s toys.
Female First Cameron Smith