Thursday, 21 June 2007

Mainstream TV not appreciated by the non-Mainstream

I'm a little surprised at the reaction to Ofcom's report about Ethnic Minorities , which stated that they were not watching that much that much mainstream TV. What did they expect?

Ofcom: teaching the industry to suck eggs.

British shows both on terrestrial TV and on all the major digital services are very much aimed at attracting a mass audience and therefore pandering to that mass audience. Drama especially is full of middle-class, middle England English people with suburban preoccupations and limited outlooks. Anyone spot a character who didn't look like they lived in a nice house in Esher on ITV's Primeval ? In fact their idea of ethnic was a having one Scottish actor to break up the casting (OK, I actually liked that show).

I remember the days when we use to bitch about American TV being flat and insipid, but now I'm the one that doesn't really watch ITV1 and its wealth of home-produced look-a-like, cast-a-like, bland-a-like shows.

Ultimately, why should we expect people to feel involved in a show that has no relevance to them... and I'm not just talking Afro-Caribbeans or South Asians. The same lack of emotional involvement historically affect lost of those outside the mainstream, be they gay, disabled, in non-traditional relationships, living in closed cultural communities, geeks and even Social Network obsessed youth and urbanites etc. You always feel more involved in stories where you're own realities, aspirations and fears are reflected back at you. Who would think otherwise?

I wanted to make 2 points to finish. Firstly, this will always be an issue (especially at PSBs) as long as so many people in TV come from such a narrow strata of society: Those who can afford to do what it takes to get a break in TV; those who talk with the right kind of talk (BBC and Oxbridge domination anyone?); those who are willing to deal the inherent instability of an industry that has become so casualised in terms of staffing.

Secondly, just as some people like Horror, some romance, some sexy shows and some gardening programmes - is there an issue with a vibrant market in niche channels? Of course social cohesion in society is of the utmost importance, and Public Service Broadcasters should absolutely make sure their content reflects society. This is especially true of reflecting life in the major urban areas where minorities congregate and troubles flair. That said, audiences with non-mainstream tastes will always demand more content relevant to them, and more content that really pushes their buttons not just acknowledge their existence.

So, bring on BET, Logo, the Cyclist channel, Wedding TV, Sony Entertainment et al. Let that niche and ethnic content flourish and feed back into the mainstream.

PS - I should add that I do fall slightly out of the mainstream, what with my choice of partners and whilst I'm a Londoner born and bred - that also means English was the second language and second culture I had to learn, Polish being the first.

Related to this thread, in my next post I'll be looking at shake out in UK channels and take a look at where content and brands, especially niche ones might be going.

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