Wednesday, 8 February 2012

On Screen Pointless

Hello again, The BBC. It's me, Rob. I recently contacted you complain about you sticking "Coming Next" banners over the last few minutes of programmes I was watching. If you can't remember, you can go read my original complaint, and your reply, here.

I'll be honest... your reply did not really satisfy me. It didn't really feel like you paid much attention to what I'd said. In fact, it felt like you took only the most cursory glance at  my complaint and then sent out an impersonal, standard reply, dismissing me like you might a spaniel, or a medieval serf. Well. Much as I love you, The BBC, and support you vigorously on a constant basis, I feel you have let me down here. Leaving me with trust issues. BBC Trust issues, if you will.

Luckily for me, you have given me the option to take my complaint further, if I am not satisfied. I can only assume this is some kind of 'weeding out' process, designed to filter out less persistent complaints and see who is really determined to have a moan even when faced with your blank indifference. Having considered the kind of compaints you do respond to, perhaps I should have said something like this:

Dear The BBC

I never watch any of your channels, but the Daily Mail told me that you are a bunch of bastards, and I, for one, am outraged. Apparently one of your programmes offended their journalists in some way, and even though I haven't seen it I would like you to crawl on the floor in repentance and never do it again. Whatever it was.

yours idiotically

A. Moron

I've seen the results of these letters before. You love apologising to those guys. You apologise and apologise, make good people resign for no reason,  and then you institute blunt, idiotic changes to the editorial freedoms of your staff. Because for some reason an irritated, ill informed attack on something that doesn't matter sends you all into spirals of panic and self doubt. But heaven forbid you actually listen to someone who is upset at the quality of the viewing experience itself. No. They can have a standard, impersonal response that does nothing but justify your own pre-existing policy and utterly ignore everything they have said.

Well, not good enough. I have a couple of issues with your response. Here they are. Please read them this time.

1. "We have duty to let the audience know about the choices available..."

Let's assume this is true, and you do see this as a service rather than, say, advertising. Here are some ways people can find out about your programmes:

Any newspaper
The Radio Times
Any other television listing magazine
Literally dozens of sites on the internet
Announcements between programmes
Announcements over the end credits of programmes
Phoning up the BBC (apparently)
Electronic Programme Guides
Waiting until it is on and saying "Oh! I like this!"
Watching it on iPlayer if you miss it anyway

All methods, you'll notice, which don't intrude on the actual act of watching the programme itself. Which, of course, is the only reason to advertise the bloody thing in the first place.

I think this offers a sufficient range of opportunities for finding out what is on telly next. I don't think you need to fret about your duty not being done. In fact, I'd say that if people can't work out what is on after being given all these opportunities, they are probably too stupid to understand television, and probably use theirs as an altar for sacrificing chickens.

 2. Our research suggests...

"The feedback we received is positive regarding the enjoyment levels of our trails. The results show that trails found to be entertaining and informative are generally high."

 I'm going to come right out and say that I don't believe this, at all. You are saying that these specific bits of advertising -'in programme pointers' you call them - are appreciated by more viewers than they annoy? Really?

Hmm. Actually, you're not quite saying that, are you? You say your research 'suggests' this. Suggests... Shall I tell you what this 'suggests' to me? It suggests that you have taken some very broad research about trailers in general, and applied it unscientifically to this particular issue. I think you had a survey that went something like this:

Do you find trailers on the BBC:

a) brilliant and useful
b) pretty good
c) not too bad - certainly better than being sick

And people have thought about trailers - you know, like the lovely one at Christmas with David Jason or the brilliant 'Bring Me Sunshine" one from last year- and thought "Yeah! They're excellent! Much better than being sick!" And they've all given you really positive feedback.

And then you've applied these vague and positively-weighted results to the justification of all your advertising - including the horrible, irritating On Screen rubbish you insist on sticking over the end of programmes. I mean, please correct me if I'm way off on this. If you can direct me to the specific research that you have done - research on the subject of 'on screen pointers' that has options ranging from "I find on-screen pointers useful" to "I think on-screen pointers are cultural vandalism, they make me want to puke, I hate them, arg, arg, the misery!" - if you can show me that research, and it proves your case, I will believe you.

But I don't think you can. So I won't.

I think this is self serving, meaningless nonsense, using nebulous 'research' to justify decisions that have already been made for commercial reasons. You want to talk about duty? You have a duty to provide quality programming - a duty that exceeds any invented requirement to inform people of what's on in five minutes time. You want to talk about audience feedback? Let's see a response to this complaint that mirrors your reaction when someone whips up a tabloid frenzy about a swear word they thought they heard.

I love you, The BBC. You are important, and artistic, and clever and bold. If you were a woman I would try to get you drunk. If you were a man I would try to impress you by doing the 'Funny how?' monologue from Goodfellas. As it is, you are a creative enterprise and so I want to encourage you to be better.

Be better. Get rid of these on screen pointers. Do it now.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Have patience. Now!

Dear The BBC

Re: Him and Her - your recent sort-of sit-com about a young couple sharing a flat, and never leaving it, and occasionally having some weird friends come over and eat their biscuits.

I really liked it. Thank you for making it.

I wasn't sure about it at first - it's strange and sort of uncomfortable in its depiction of some quite spiky people and situations. It takes time to get into the rhythm of the show and appreciate the characters. But as I have warmed to Him and Her, it has sort of unfurled beautifully before my eyes - a peculiar and unique little creation, full of new, subtle flavours. And really, really funny.

So thank you.

But. Here's a thing I didn't like about it.

No, not Becky's semi-fascist, idiot sister Laura. She is annoying - with her tendency to put others down to make herself seem better, and her inability to see importance in any conversation not centred on her upcoming wedding, and her stupid hair. She's not the thing I didn't like. I wouldn't want to know her, but she's a great comedy character.

And it's not the fact that every episode takes place entirely within the flat. I think that's kind of smart, and well used as a premise. Plus, it's thrifty use of the license fee, so well done there.

And I don't have a problem with the fact that Him and Her is hard to warm to. One of the best things about you, The BBC, is that you give programmes time and space to find an audience, and develop slowly and naturally. Many wonderful television programmes, films and albums have failed to grab audiences straight away, only to flourish as time has allowed them to mature, and allowed people to recognise their strange new beauty. Your faith in the creative process is one of your great strengths, and what keeps you consistently producing some of the best television ever seen.

No, all of these things are fine, and in fact brilliant.

My problem is this:

"Coming Next: Family Guy."

Right at the climax of the episode, where we have been heading all this time, right at the point where things come to a head, when themes characters and plot lines converge - when I am as involved in the story of these people as I am ever going to be. A huge computer generated graphic splats itself across the bottom of the screen, while the programme I'm trying to watch is still bloody happening.

"Coming Next: Family Guy."

What. In the name. Of fuck. Is this? This massive green slab of intrusive advertising, scrolling across my screen, rolling over the work of the writer, production crew and actors just as they are delivering their finest moments? This enemy of art and beauty, smashing into a shared moment, desperate for attention no matter how inappropriate, how stupid. Like a dickhead in the audience for Hamlet, loudly phoning for a taxi during the death scene. Yeah, we're nearly done now. More or less over. May as well move on to the next thing.

What, The BBC, are you thinking?

What were you thinking?

I know what you were thinking.

You were thinking "In this multi-channel age, where viewers have a multiplicity of other options which might distract them from continuing to watch BBC3, we need to make sure they stick with us, all night, and indeed forever, until they die."

Or, as you will put it to people who complain:

"Many viewers appreciate knowing what is coming up next, as it helps them plan their viewing for the coming evening..."

To which I can only say, no they bloody don't. Everyone in the known universe now gets their television through some kind of digital box. And all they have to do is press a button, and up pops a list of what's on next, on whatever channel they want. Did you know about this, The BBC? It's called an EPG - electronic programme guide. The answer is, yes, you did know about it - you often retitle programmes so they work better when put onto the EPG. Nobody needs a slogan to come up at the end of their favourite programme, ruining it by telling them what is on next. And you know that.

But let us, for a moment, assume that I do not know how to use my on screen guide to find out what's on next. Maybe I'm a piece of toast, or an albatross or some kind of neanderthal, and I don't understand how to work the magic box in front of me. I've stared in black incomprehension at the moving colours and shapes, and I'm just about on the verge of turning it off. Which would be a tragedy, of course, because then I'd miss Family Guy.

Then, to my delight, a little splodge of green vomit unrolls across the screen and shouts "Hey, you! You piece of toast, or albatross maybe! Don't turn off - there's a show on next that's perfect for you!" Phew! Nearly missed out there! Thanks, The BBC!

Except, of course, just as Family Guy is finishing, and I'm chuckling happily to myself at the surreal world I've been allowed into, what happens? That's right. Another bastard banner rolls over the screen to let me know that "Coming up: More Family Guy!" And now, even though I've enjoyed watching this, I'm not looking forward to the next one. Because I know that however funny the next episode is, however cleverly crafted the script and inventive the visuals, I will never be quite immersed in it because I will be constantly, subconsciously waiting for the moment that the illusion is ruined by your next banner. And the next one. A never ending stream of panicky self promotion that cannot be happy in the present, but has to run headlong into the future like a hyperactive toddler.

As Yoda once said, before he sold out and started advertising phone companies, "Always looking to the future. Never his mind on where he is."

So, basically, stop doing it. It serves no function, no-one wants it and it is a fundamental cheapening of the very art form you exist to distribute. You're better than this, The BBC.

(And while we're here, get rid of the 'BBC HD' logo on the HD channel. The entire point of watching HD is that is looks better. Sticking a label in the corner makes it look worse. Also, what's with credit squeezing? Have you no standards? Good grief. And make another series of The Fades. And get me some biscuits!)