Making a meal of it

Making a meal of it

Posted March 6th, 2012 by debritz

Yesterday, after I posted this item about the state of television in Australia, I received a direct message from somebody who works in the industry.

Noting that "fatal decay" in broadcast television began years ago, my correspondent added: "Who wouldn't rather order from a menu?"

The food analogy is a useful one, but I'd employ it differently. I'd say, who would want to choose from a limited menu when there's a whole smorgasbord to be enjoyed? Oh, and not everybody wants to eat at the same time, and no matter how good the chef is, we don't always want to eat at the same restaurant.

This is why, even with the greater flexibility offered by having extra digital channels, free-to-air television can't compete with pay-TV, let alone the internet.

Online, you can get anything you want exactly when you want it. The only problem is that it's not legal in Australia yet. But, as with music file-sharing, that can't be far away, because the people who make the product, quite reasonably, want to get paid when people consume it.

In reply to the message, I said that, even though it was apparent to people inside the station bunkers, it didn't appear that the television networks were doing enough to cope with this revolution.

Yesterday, I finished up by writing that My Kitchen Rules "is a step in the right direction, because it's popular, original content that the Seven Network can exploit in other media".

Another, perhaps better, example is Home And Away, the Australian soap opera that regularly attracts more than 1 million viewers at home and millions more in overseas markets. It feeds Seven's own schedule, and will be making money for its producers well into the future, through repeats.

At the moment, network production resources are largely devoted to news and current affairs. That's a good thing for short-term ratings results but, in general, these programs have a very short "tail". There's an immediate ratings return, that is rewarded by increased income from advertising, but there are no ongoing payments for repeats (except for sales of library material).

To survive, networks simply must focus on being production houses first, and broadcasters second. If they are not out there seeking fresh talent -- starting with writers who can produce great scripts -- and prepared to take a punt on drama and comedy, then they are signing their own death warrants.