Telly is having a moment. Never before have audiences had access to so many decent dramas, documentaries and sitcoms at the click of a button, or a firm command into a voice-operated remote.
Not only is TV content changing, the way we watch it is evolving too. Gone are the days of just getting what we’re given in one-hour segments once a week. Thanks to on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix, we have the option to cherry-pick from thousands
of shows and consume whole series in one sitting.
It means competition is fierce. Last week, Apple launched its new TV streaming service Apple TV+. Its first drama, See, starring Jason Momoa – better-known as Aquaman, or Khal Drogo to us Game of Thrones fans – takes viewers hundreds of years into the future, to a time when humans have lost the ability to see. As soon as I saw the trailer, I was hooked. I wanted a slice of this new mythical saga. But then it dawned on me – another subscription to pay for, as if we don’t already have enough.
With Netflix, Amazon Prime, Now TV and now Apple’s new offering, we’re witnessing TV becoming increasingly exclusive. To access the shows everyone is talking about you need a super-fast broadband connection and multiple direct debits.
And what effect is the new Golden Era of TV having on the trusty old terrestrial channels? The reality stared me in the face last week as I flicked through the TV guide on a Sunday evening. It was 8pm, which I think for most people is prime winding-down time. And what were the four main TV channels offering at this sacred hour? On BBC1 Antiques Roadshow, which is, you know, fine, but let’s be honest, it’s 2pm weekday fodder at best. On BBC2 a highly niche and completely uninspiring documentary about Britain’s biggest warship was no doubt boring half of its viewers to death. ITV1 was churning out an episode of Catchphrase, while over on Channel 4 was an episode of Great Canal Journeys, which I have to admit is British TV at its most lovely and wholesome but still, this is Sunday night, our last little slice of the weekend. Give us something good.
As entertainment corporations go head to head in a race to monopolise TV, there’s a danger of fobbing those on low incomes off with crap reality TV shows, poverty porn and game shows while subsequently pushing people who can’t afford subscriptions for Sky, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+ and whatever comes next outside conversations about popular culture, while those who can afford to pay for broadband and a myriad of subscription services get round-the-clock access to real-life stories, new comedies and gripping new dramas.
We’ve been here before with football, and look what happened there. A sport that used to be for everyone became for the few, forcing fans to either fork out for expensive TV packages or watch big games in the pub.
For more than 50 years TV has been a focal point for society. It’s a conversation starter in offices, an ice-breaker on first dates, and a reflection of the world we live in. While there’s arguably never been a better time for TV lovers, with the release of every new on-demand service there needs to be an effort not to shut people out.
Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy
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