13 things to know about the television industry in 2013
Crime, quizzes and Netflix are in favour, dancing newsreaders not so much
If you want to have heated debates about what exactly constitutes a “watercooler moment” in television viewing, and whether “shiny-floor” talent contests are a waning format, look no further than the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, where the lanyard-sporting television industry gets together to talk shop, announce deals and drink sponsored coffee.
Here are 13 things we picked up in between caffeine fixes:
1. Games shows are not pointless: What they actually are is a cheap mainstay of the daytime schedule. And even if they’re as mind-bogglingly nerdy as the BBC’s Pointless, they can become a prime-time hit. TV3 has commissioned two peak-time quiz shows, The Lie and Pressure Point. So here’s your starter for 10: why are there no quizzes on RTÉ Television?
2. Crime still pays, unless it’s CSI: From The Bridge to The Fall, the co-production universe loves nothing more than the international language of bloody murder. But the CSI franchise, once a bedrock of both RTÉ Two and Channel 5’s schedule, is winding down, with its Miami and New York offshoots already cancelled. “We need another beast,” said Channel 5’s Ben Frow (formerly of the TV3 parish).
3. The word “television” still has some cachet: Keynote speaker and star-of-Netflix Kevin Spacey was asked if he thought the conference might eventually be renamed the Guardian Edinburgh International Multiplatform Festival. No one, including the actor, thought that sounded like much fun.
4. Editing is important: In a live staging of The Great British Bake Off, contestants had 35 minutes to make a tray of shortbread. “That’s a lot of time to fill,” despaired co-presenter Mel Giedroyc, as she and Sue Perkins calculated that the actual baking process would amount to around 41 seconds in a final edit.
5. “Officer class” payments are toxic: Discussing severance payments to BBC executives, journalist Liz MacKean (the reporter on the Jimmy Savile exposé that was controversially cancelled by Newsnight) said the existence of an “officer class” at her former employer flew in the face of public service broadcasting. “It points to something that is toxic,” agreed NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet.
6. The women-on-air issue can make convenient PR: Tony Hall, the director-general of the BBC, was keen to “lance” the problem of executive severance payments by moving on to his big announcement – a pledge to ensure better representation of female voices on regional breakfast radio.
7. Dry mouth happens to us all: What was going through a nervous Gary Neville’s mind when he was about to make his punditry debut on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football? “Where’s my water?” he revealed.
8. Not everyone enjoys brainstorming: In a live version of Room 101, BBC Two controller Janice Hadlow outlined her aversion to flipboard-tastic creative brainstorming sessions. Not only did they never yield good ideas, she said, but they involved the use of the most chilling words in the English language : “Can you get into your breakout groups now?”
9. Don’t dance on the news: Another executive’s desire to banish humour in news programmes to television hell was illustrated with a cringe-inducing video of Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman attempting a Gangnam Style routine on air. Just say no.
10. There is no escape from YouTube: Two years ago, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt was the festival’s first keynote speaker not to have a background in television or film. Now Google-owned YouTube is one of the two main sponsors of the festival, despite its director of TV Ben McOwen Wilson confirming that the whole messy business of originating content is simply not in its skillset.
11. Microsoft is here to entertain you: Entertainment is not the first thing you think of when you think of Microsoft, but its next big launch, the Xbox One, won’t be marketed as a gaming console, but as an all-purpose entertainment device. It has hired executives from the television world to make it all happen.
12. Online video isn’t only short-form: The idea that people are only prepared to view snippets of audio-visual content online is outdated, it was agreed. They can clutch that iPad for hours.
13. The number 13 is completely arbitrary: Netflix’s first original production, House of Cards, was broken into 13 episodes, mirroring the typical half-season of US television. But why have episodes at all? “I can see a time when someone decides to make 13 hours of drama with no breaks,” said Spacey. “Let the viewer decide when to stop.”