Like Bruce said: “99 channels and nothing on”

Back in the 1960s, the UK was home to its first two (monochrome) TV channels: BBC and (regional) ITV, which were joined by BBC2 in 1964. BBC1’s test card, accompanied by light music,was replaced by children’s programmes each weekday afternoon and concluded with the epilogue and national anthem by midnight. I recall the very formal announcer reminding viewers to pull the plug from its socket before going to bed. A remote control was beyond our imagination.

Fast-forward to the present and my Freeview receiver picks up around 60 free-to-air digital terrestrial channels, many of them 24/7, but there is little more worth watching now than 40 years ago. Production values, sound and picture quality have improved by leaps and bounds, but good content is spread thinner than the hairs on Wayne Rooney’s head.

The main channels are riddled with repeats, which make up the entire content of seven other stations, five of which are aired again only an hour later. You wonder what the future holds for these “Plus-one” broadcasts as increased access to PVRs and online catch-up facilities makes them obsolescent. The remaining stations mostly comprise rolling news, shopping, reality, food and children’s programming.

The proportion of original creative content is unlikely to improve any time soon. There is a race to pipe online content to your main screen, with players such as Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, et al competing for your eyeballs and hard-earned. Whilst they are busy negotiating to license content from Hollywood studios, sports bodies and TV broadcasters, I haven’t heard of any initiatives to nurture budding scriptwriters and directors.

Surely the laws of supply and demand will eventually prevail and some enlightened mogul will establish a hothouse to cultivate a new generation of original, quality programmes, for the entertainment and enlightenment of the new global audience. There are dramatists, documentary journalists, comedians, writers, musicians and artists aplenty, but they need an environment where they can be brought together to fertilise new ideas, experiment, fail and try again.

I’m thinking the Brill Building in 60’s New York, home to songwriters, arrangers, musicians, singers, studios, technicians, record companies and publishers.

I’m thinking of Berry Gordy’s Motown, which produced hundreds of hit records, setting new standards and influencing other labels along the way.

I’m thinking of the golden age of the Hollywood studio system, where vertical integration saw studios sign up the creative talent, while owning the means of production and distribution.

I’m even thinking as far back as Bach, Mozart, Chaucer, Shakespeare, DaVinci and Michelangelo: All had patrons throughout their working lives. Without them the world would be a poorer place.

It’s not as if I’m suggesting a worthy mogul should sponsor the arts in some grandiose and selfless act. In a world where content platforms and distributors are competing for quality content, it must make business sense for the big players to muster all the talent they can and do everything to motivate them and facilitate their creativity. Many of these people are resting between projects at any given time. In addition to the commercial potential, just think of the positive PR it would generate.

In a perfect world, these corporations would all pay local taxes on their profits and the state would cultivate the creative industries. As things stand, some pay little, or none at all, in many of the countries where they operate.

Investment in a global foundation for the advancement of the creative sector would be a small step towards redressing this injustice. It would also give Apple an opportunity to put to good use some of the unspent $100 billion profits they have amassed around the world but refuse to repatriate because of the tax implications. Facilities should be established in every country, to produce original art and entertainment with a local flavour.

The only proviso I make is that the creatives are given free reign — the space to make something remarkable. Find a suitable outlet for it later. Any attempt to control the creative process would only be counter-productive. The last thing we need is a production line of bland corporate pap. There are bound to be failures along the way, but this is a necessary part of the creative process and a healthy sign of the freedom to innovate, experiment and be adventurous.

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