Friday, 6 June 2008

What Is The Point Of Digital TV?

Primitive and painfully slow as the internet was when I was first introduced to it some 13 years ago - I could see it had potential.

Eighteen months after acquiring the TV digibox which multiplied my five terrestrial television stations x seven (to reluctantly abet my country in selling off the analogue signal which will eventually deprive me of TV altogether without a digibox), I still don't see the point of digital TV, bar for hard-core sports or home shopping fans.

For the rest of us the same few programmes are endlessly repeated, not unusually within the same day, and certainly within the same week. I can easily imagine that Friends in particular will be replayed on a continuous looptape on one channel until our speed-dating thirtysomethings are shuffle-dating ninetysomethings!

Other channels drown in home makeover show repeats that even I have managed to catch at least twice already as a makeover show fan. Talent shows proliferate, but so samey and formulaic it is often hard to tell (or care) if they are repeats or not. Cheap imported fillers such as Judge Judy go out several times a day, seldom a day under ten years old.

Low budget productions abound, but new television programmes, particularly quality drama productions are increasingly becoming a rarity as the television money pie is cut into ever meaner slices to accommodate all the digital 'new kids on the block'.

Conversely our lives get busier and busier leaving us with less and less television viewing time and the internet competes by offering YouTube and other viewing on demand, so does it not follow we'd rather watch something GOOD when we have the leisure time?

The best thing about all the digital repeats has been the opportunity to see the odd series that I missed as a small child - Upstairs Downstairs for example - which was superb! And the 1980s Sherlock Holmes series - again a poignant reminder of what television is capable of at its best.

Once in a blue moon the BBC might take a risk with a new expensive series - such as resurrecting Dr Who - for example. Or even a BRAND new concept such as the far-riskier 'Life on Mars'. The resounding success of these series is not lost on them, but rather than commissioning even more new series and taking even more risks to raise themselves head and shoulders above the competition, what do they do? Rather extraordinarily, kill the couple of geese laying these golden eggs for them with OVERKILL. Aside from the ridiculous levels of tie-in merchandise, there is now a digital channel almost devoted to recent Dr Who repeats and 'behind the scenes' documentaries about it. Having enjoyed it as much as anyone in the initial stages, I am now rapidly going off Dr Who, despite the undeniable charms of its star, David Tennant.

Yet presumably the rights to our television successes are then sold to multiple countries - as with the BBC's most successful series ever, 19th Century sailing saga 'The Onedin Line' - still generating revenue for them over 30 years later and hot in Yugoslavia!

The other annoying thing about digital aside from all the repeats are the ad breaks, which are at least twice as long and loud as those on terrestrial commercial channels. Oh and 24hr News actually encourages 'creation' of enough news to fill it, rather than quality reporting on real issues, aka 'News'.

Simultaneously the big slide with the terrestrial channels continues apace as they make less and less effort to differentiate themselves from their poorer digital cousins, ignoring viewer complaints about quality, messing with scheduling, and insulting programme makers by docking, squeezing or whizzing programme end credits, including cast lists, of the few decent programmes they still broadcast in the name of advertising the often far-crappier programme coming up next.

To sum up, although I have enjoyed some nostalgia on digital in the form of old films and series, some history programmes, and even a bit of low-budget such as 'Spendaholics', I have not seen anything worth seeing which could not have easily been slotted into the five terrestrial channels that I started out with.


teeni said...

Wow. Great points. I am in total agreement with the thought that there are only so many shows I consider good and they would all fit in just a few channels. All the rest is just rubbish, and we do seem to have so little leisure time these days that it is a waste to spend it watching bad television.

I'm stumbling this post.

Steerforth said...

You mean you don't enjoy those re-runs of Bergerac?

Digital television is fine if you're housebound, don't read and like jigsaw puzzles, but I agree,, FOUR channels is probably enough.

Steve said...

Karen and I both agree that more choice is not always a good thing. We'd much rather have fewer channels jampacked with terrific quality shows than a thousands channels that show something decent once in a blue moon. However, digital is the way it seems... and I think the way forward will be personal channels where you choose what you want to watch and when you want to watch it. It's already started with things like Catch Up TV. The downside is that nobody will be watching stuff at the same time as anybody else and office gossip about shows like The Apprentice will die out. Or is that a good thing?

Jock Coats said...

Looking at your question a different way, and something you should appreciate as one involved in land reform...:)

The "point" of digital TV is not to create more channels per se, it is to make more efficient use of a finite natural resource for which there is increasing demand, in this case the electromagnetic spectrum.

The analogue channels are equvalent in EM Spectrum terms to what say a bunch of unremarkable two bed semis might be on a sprawling massively underutilized site slap bang in the middle of Carfax.

To start with, you might build some higher density flats on vacant land nearby that can perform exactly the same function but for more people, and then you can knock down the old wasteful houses, and because the technology has moved on and there are more functions trying to fit in the old space an office tower block goes there, perhaps with a shopping mall underneath.

So it is with the spectrum. And as broadcast TV and other forms of entertainment and info-media converge we'll start losing a lot of these cheap and cheeerful TV channels onto other media.

But just like those decanted out of the bunch of land wasting semis in town into the lfats, it will be perhaps a testing time as familar surroundings are replaced and new neighbours, lots of them, are strangers and a bit threatening. But then they'll eventually learn that metropolitan life can be fun and profitable and offers a wider choice and a better spread of people making some form of living out of it.

This analogy is so accurate precisely because, in economic terms, the electromagnetic spectrum is even called "land", *real* estate, just as the land underneath those semis is called "land". And because the extent of the available land is limited, we have to learn to use it efficiently and adapt our technologies to use it more efficiently.

The analogue signal spectrum is simply grossly underused land in a country with lots of homeless would be citizens!

lucyfishwife said...

I got confusingly caught up in the Sky/NTL wars, which means I now pay the same as a Sky customer but don't get Sky News or Sky One (so no "Lost", which I was just starting to get into). I would change but can't be arsed to foof around getting a dish put on our roof! And it all seems a high price to pay for the ability to watch Frasier at all hours of the day and night. However, if the ONLY good thing to come out of digital TV is Gene Hunt, I for one support it...

dan said...

Nonsense! Digital TV is well worth it for BBC3, BBC4, More4 and FilmFour alone...

Wisewebwoman said...

Funny you should post this, Laura as I was recently living (for 4 months)in a house of 500 channels and which confirmed what I had thought - there was never anything to watch.
I'm back to my TV-less existence again.
Though I should add if there are particularly great series from BBC/PBS, etc, I buy them and watch at my own leisure.

Anonymous said...

Well, I am not a big TV person as you probably know - I watch maybe 5 hours of TV a week. I have a Digibox only because without it Channel 5 is unwatchable (too snowy). That only matters because I love CSI - it is one of the five hours of TV I watch a week.

Funnily enough - way back in about 1985/6 when I was an u/g I took an option on communications and the mass media and wrote a dissertation on, and I"m trying to think what it was called back then, Satellite TV maybe. Wish I still had it - I'm sure I said it was going to change the world. But that was the internet, wasn't it?

I cannot believe the dross that people watch on TV - and yes, I do mean makeover progs and those God-awful "talent" shows that people even let their children watch! I'd rather let my children run across a motorway than watch those! What messages do they think their children pick up about the route to success? haha I am such an anti-TV bore, aren't I? And yes, you can say "yes". If I were your mother you would not be watching those makeover shows at all, it'd be Question Time, the Gadget Show and that'd be about it, well maybe Dr Who if you were a good girl and washed behind your ears regularly.

(I watch The Apprentice though so my slate is not clean either)

The Poet Laura-eate said...

wTeeni, reassuring to know a Stateside cousin also gets sick of the sea of rubbish. Thanks for stumbling me!

Steerforth - the re-runs of Bergerac have passed me by. What channel is that? But again you are right - we do not need multifarious channels just for a few Bergerac repeats.

Steve, I value your opinion on this as a fellow telly-addict. We agree in prinicple it seems, but you are right that the sense of community (not to mention worthwhile viewing figures) disappears when no one is watching the same thing at the same time any longer. I think The Apprentice has had its day personally!

Jock, 'fraid I am not qualified to respond re the technical side of digital, I only know what is being lost in terms of broadcasting quality to the 'digital revolution' as the money pot is spread even thinner over even more channels that none of us have the time to watch anyway and how programmes are losing both viewing figures and intrinsic value as a result. If I may cheekily consider the reverse of your technical analogy, programme-wise you could almost say that BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 *were* the high density housing and have now suddenly been swept away in favour of wasteful, poor quality and somewhat useless 'housing' with no real thought as to function/demand/value/audience. In addition digital radio in particular is said to use MORE power, not less. But it would certainly be helpful for the powers-that-be to inform the public what they intend with the 'digital revolution', how it will benefit us exactly and why the BBC are using our licence fee to help fund its invasion without our consent.

LucyFishWife - ah but like the bulk of new drama Gene Hunt transferred to BBC 1 fairly quickly did he not? Not enough new programmes being made to do otherwise.

Dan, BBC3 + BBC4 don't even start until 6pm each day with their few new programmes soon repeated on BBC1 and 2. As for Film 4, it is also extremely repetitive and I do not often find good films on it, or at least good films I have not seen already.

WiseWebWoman, I can see myself moving in the same direction.

RB - knew I could trust you for a good old anti-TV message! Like WWW above, I cannot argue with much of what you say. As for my perversion for makeover shows, I can no more explain it than you can your addiction to Sugar - of the Alan variety. Perhaps because he is so ghastly, you can't quite believe he is real? Or that anyone in their right mind would want to work for him, let alone compete for the honour? Although I would contend that makeover shows have the moral high ground here as they do actually transform something/someone in a positive way, whereas shows like The Apprentice are to knock people down, make them look stupid and bait them against each other to display the worst mores of human behaviour. Talent shows, yes - terrible nowadays! Not to mention rigged.

I wash behind my ears daily - does that entitle me to more viewing?

MarkF said...

I had the same hopes for digital radio. At last the chance to explore other cultures, different viewpoints and more diverse news. Like digital TV it's a disappointment.

I now use the BBC iPlayer and a hard disk recorder to pick out the few gems in the schedules and try to watch those rather than sitting down to enjoy TV of an evening like we seemed to do in the 70s...

Rol said...

I do watch things on More 4, E4, BBC4 etc... but if those digital channels didn't exist, they'd just show the good stuff on the normal channels anyway. (Apart from the stuff that gets bought by Evil Sky.)

Old Fogey said...

Laura - Very interesting. I'm always disinclined to think there are conspiracies when there are probably not, but now I'm not so sure. Looking round Woolworths the other day I definitely get the impression that all the new technologies I've managed to get the hang of - CDs, DVDs, MP3, but not iPods - are shortly to be replaced by something newer and more super refined that we'll be made to think we need. As the bottom now seems to be falling out of the DVD market, we'll soon be persuaded into buying Blu ray discs on the grounds that you can see the every hair on the back of the actress's neck. So we'll then begin the long process of renewing all our collections in the new format. Am I being conned or what? How do I deal with it?

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Mark, I can see that I too will eventually give in to the programmes-on-demand route and give up trying to watch television even as we know it digitally.

Rol, evil is the word re Sky!

Old Fogey - I'm sure we shall find that 'keeping us spending/consuming' is at the heart of the digital conspiracy. Aside from the thought control that is to be exercised over us through the next wave of tellytechnology!