I wonder if one of the great promises of digital television will not be kept in the long run. Theoretically, Freeview offers viewers more choice than the old five analogue channels. At first it was true. As well as the five channels we already knew, ONdigital launched with plenty of sport and film channels, childrens’ channels and a variety of other niche channels.
That’s still kind of the same with Freeview today. But Freeview is becoming a victim of its own success. There are dozens of channels on Freeview. But once you take away the shopping and quiz channels, many of the remaining channels spend much of their time broadcasting shopping and quiz programmes, or advertising their own subscription services.
Having a Freeview channel is like gold dust for a broadcaster now. But this means that if a company only has one channel on Freeview it has to make the most of what it’s got. Now, instead of each channel catering for its own niche, channels are scurrying around chasing the average viewer. So instead of having loads more choice than we did in the old days, we now have slightly more choice.
It’s a bit like local radio stations. There are millions of them, but as far as I can tell they are almost all exactly the same. Listeners don’t get choice here. They get the same bland middle-of-the-road pop music with over-excited presenters yelping over the top. I mean, how many radio stations have a slogan along the lines of “Classic hits and today’s best music, only on 97.3 Scrotum FM”? All of them?
Freeview still has a lot of quality channels. But most of the choice comes from the BBC, Channel 4 or (at a stretch) ITV. Even then, you sense that this is only because each of these broadcasters have multiple Freeview slots to fill.
Disney has one channel on Freeview: ABC1. Its diet of cheaply imported, inoffensive daytime-friendly American comedy has barely changed in years. Yawn.
BSkyB has three channels: Sky News, Sky Sports News and Sky Travel. That was, until they decided to replace Sky Travel with a general entertainment channel especially created for Freeview, Sky Three. So what about the fans of travel programmes? They’ll have to make do with gameshows that were originally shown on Sky One five years ago and cheaply imported American comedies. Boring. (Apart from Futurama, of course!)
Even Channel Five couldn’t manage to come up with interesting Freeview channels. Overnight it brings us The Great Big British Quiz, one of the worst quiz channels there is! Past the watershed, Five US is filled with wall to wall repeats of CSI. During the day we are treated to cheaply imported (imported from the past, that is) episodes of Happy Days and comedy backwater Joey. Pass me the pillow.
Five Life is so inconsequential, I won’t even go into it. All it ever seems to show is The Ellen DeGeneres Show (a cheaply imported American chat show). I shat my duvet out of boredom.
The latest culprit to contribute to the increasingly tumbleweed-infested airwaves is Viacom, whose sole Freeview channel is TMF. It used to be called The Music Factory. Just one problem. You’ll never find any music on it. This was understandable when it showed MTV programmes such as Newlyweds or Dirty Sanchez. For one thing, it brought MTV programmes into terrestrial homes which I guess you should be grateful for. And there was still a (tenuous) link to music.
But now TMF has brought into its schedule “classic comedies” such as Cheers, Ally McBeal and The Wonder Years. WTF!!! TMF is now even unrecognisable to what it was last week, never mind a few years ago! What do these programmes have to do with music?
Even the higher quality Freeview channels, such as ITV2, More4 or E4 show more than their fair share of American comedy and drama. Sky took off their travel channel to show more American programmes. MTV have changed their music channel beyond recognition to show more American programmes. Now Channel Five have an entire channel dedicated to it. So where has the variety gone? We may have more choice, but we no longer have variety.
But there is a silver lining! Ftn has been on Freeview almost since the very start, but it was easily the most uneventful channel on the lineup. This was despite all the potential. It could draw from the pool of Flextech channels, which surely have a few quality programmes to rub together. But whoever was responsible obviously didn’t care. Ftn was like a piece of shit on your shoe that you hate so much that you won’t even bother to wash it off, so instead you scrape your shoe all over the pavement as you walk along and hope that it just goes away. Yes, Ftn was exactly like that.
Until now, that is. On New Year’s Day, Ftn’s schedule was shaken up to include more quality programmes. The phone-in quiz shows and Thomas Cook TV segments have gone, and they’ve been replaced with repeats of The Crystal Maze, The Krypton Factor and Bullseye!
Wow! Those were three of my favourite programmes when I was young! The fact that these programmes are now almost twenty years old messes with my mind. What’s even more amazing is just how much of The Crystal Maze I can actually remember, despite it being made way back in 1990.
I know what you’re thinking. These are just cheap repeats like all the other stuff. Well yeah, but at least it’s not Dawson’s Creek. Now, start the fans please!