The sun sometimes shines on TV

The sun sometimes shines on TV

Stranger Things Season 1

I recently bit the bullet and signed up to pay for Netflix after my free 30-day trial had expired. I had been stridently holding out after falling out of love with Lovefilm a couple of years ago (chiefly down to their increasing lack of premium titles and the unreliability of DVD) and felt that Sky Atlantic would sate my televisual needs but, in all honesty, I simply couldn’t stand the idea of not being able to see recent US smash ‘Stranger Things’ (if you haven’t seen it yet, you must).

Since bingeing on the aforementioned 80s sci-fi nostalgia-fest I’ve subsequently moved on to other Netflix delights like ‘The Returned’, and I can’t wait to delve into more Netflix-exclusive shows like Narcos and finally savour Scandi noir like The Killing (how did I miss that first time around?). As an added bonus, my kids are loving it too – what’s not to like about endless episodes of ‘Power Rangers Super Mega Force’ after all – and we now feel a bit like a family of children let loose in the proverbial confectionery emporium.

The ‘golden age’ of TV drama that we currently live in has been well documented. We’re all so time starved and spoiled for choice when it comes to entertainment that when we do sit down in front of the box/ device of choice the content we watch has to be of the very highest quality. Unless you’re just craving reruns of The Sullivans or want to remember the theme tune to Ulysses 31 (YouTube can usually help on that front though).

The need for – and challenges around the production of – quality content was high on the agenda when I attended a Scotland Policy Conference last week entitled ‘The TV market in Scotland’. Academics, leading legal minds and industry heavyweights from both the commercial and non-commercial side of the fence gathered to discuss the future of television broadcasting north of the border and, while latter discussions centred mainly around the legal and financial implications post-Brexit, the first two thirds focused on the importance of representation for (and from) Scots on TV, TVs impact on culture and tourism and what the future holds in terms of programming and content.

With no current large-scale studio/ production facilities available the Scottish industry and economy is missing out on location-based opportunities that we could be taking advantage of. Game of Thrones’ recent record-breaking Emmy success was Scotland’s loss and Northern Ireland’s victory – the show apparently wanted to film in Scotland (The Highlands would undoubtedly have made for a spectacular Westeros) but the logistics and cost of making the series here just didn’t stack up. The additional loss of revenue from unrealised ‘broadcast tourism’ (when people visit an area due to its association with a TV series or movie) is hard to quantify but very real.

Auntie Beeb faces declining viewing figures in Scotland and heavily reduced budgets. Set against a backdrop of a rapidly evolving media landscape, she will have to rethink, adapt and evolve to remain relevant and sustainable and – perhaps just as importantly- to serve the needs of Scottish license payers.

As mentioned previously, audiences now demand more, different and better content. Many people are unhappy with the way Scotland – and Scots – are represented on TV. The question ‘what was the last good Scottish drama you watched?’ was posed and the response was – in the main – stony silence. Shows like ‘Still Game’, and even ‘Taggart’, were referenced, which speaks volumes about Scottish TV output, at least in the entertainment/ non-factual arena.

The BBC isn’t standing still though. It recognises the need for change, and is committed to doing so. The importance of the relationship between the BBC, Ofcom and the government in terms of policy making and governance can’t be underestimated. Competition needs to be improved. Home-grown talent has to continue to be discovered and nurtured. Netflix – the big, brash, cash-rich behemoth that it is (like Donald Trump, only likeable) – may yet be a source of opportunity for institutions like the BBC, widening audiences for UK content and offering new opportunities for those that work in the industry.

A representative from STV also spoke passionately and feels that – from their perspective at least – there is plenty to be positive about in the future. It is now 60 years old but is perhaps faring better in these changing times. Commercial revenues have allowed them to offer a greater choice of products and develop robust regional news and current affairs offerings. This regional content (alongside big-hitting shows like X Factor and I’m A Celebrity) is key to their focus on localisation, and their existing Edinburgh and Glasgow City channels are set to be expanded in 2017 into Aberdeen, Dundee and Ayr (all to be combined under the STV2 banner). STV are currently offering some great packages for clients booking through Space & Time and their new regional city channels offer a real incentive for local businesses and brands to try TV advertising.

I’ll leave you with a final, slightly chilling, media-centric word on the subject of a post-Brexit televisual landscape. While the reality of what life will be like once/ if we leave the EU is shrouded in ‘what if’s’, there was a hint that it might bring some relaxation of advertising rules in terms of current per hour per day limits. So we might yet face a relentless American style barrage of ‘important messages’ somewhere down the line (unless you continue to tune into and support the good old BBC that is).

On that mildly depressing note, I’m off to watch the final episode of season 2 of ‘The Returned’ on Netflix. I need a fix of subtitled, morose French drama about death and the afterlife – if only to lift the mood a little.

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