Radio Times Survey: What's Next For British TV?

If you're curious to know what will happen to British television over the next ten years, then you are not alone. A recent survey carried out by the Radio Times invited a huge range of industry experts, writers and stars to predict how television might look a decade from now. It's easy to understand why—the Radio Times has been publishing listening and viewing schedules for over 90 years—so knowing the direction future television might take is kind of a big thing for the magazine.

Are we heading into a world where on demand dominates? Will the box in the corner become obsolete? Does the future belong to the young and upcoming YouTube stars of today? Or will peak viewing phenomenon like Bake Off still compel millions of us to tune in at the same time every week? These are difficult questions and the Radio Times did not expect any simple answers. Below is a selection of just a few:


First up was Sir Lenny Henry, comedian, actor, writer and presenter, “In ten years I wonder if the idea of scheduled television won't feel quaint. Apart from news and current affairs, everything else will probably be 'on demand' whatever it is whenever we desire. Big ticket shows/series/serials will launch in a fanfare of publicity – then because we'll all be wired up and subscribing up the wazoo/entire series will be beamed to us to multiple platforms.


Director and producer Ben Watson seemed to agree, “I think the notion of a schedule will be gone. People will just consume television whenever they want it. Live viewing will be mainly for event television and sports.”


So too did Phil Collinson, development producer for ITV. “I think it's going to become harder and harder to maintain a solid schedule – and yet uniting people behind event telly will still be the holy grail for broadcasters. I think everyone will cater to the box set binge audience, that is inevitable now, but I hope they will seek to find more special event pieces to build a schedule around each night.”


Billie JD Porter, TV presenter and journalist, raised the spectre of a lot more, and much shorter, online content stealing viewers away from traditional television. “I was taking meetings in LA last year with a few producers to discuss some long-form film ideas I wanted to pitch, and I met one guy who said that one of the most lucrative areas of his company was making content for Snapchat. Yes, you read that right. There are whole entertainment shows and other program formats that are being made with the view to be completely disposable, and to exist only in 10 second bursts.


“The YouTube stars and vloggers of this generation are reinventing not only the sort of content that young people consume, but they're also dictating the platforms where people in the entertainment business are investing their money too. In the age of the internet, a lot of that money and interest is geared towards very youth oriented, easily digestible short-form content.”


And the writer of the BBC sitcom the Kennedy's, Emma Kennedy added, “Emerging talent, especially in comedy, are already bypassing traditional broadcast television altogether. You can understand why: the commissioning process in television can take years and executive control can knock the joy of creativity dead in its tracks. Commissioning needs to adapt to make decisions quicker or Broadcast TV will lose out to the YouTube generation who are now doing it for themselves.”


Next in line was Caitlin Moran, columnist, author and co-writer of the Channel 4 sitcom, Raised by Wolves. Her answer: “Clearly there's going to be more crowd-funded TV shows going straight onto the net—any writer/actor/comedian with a solid fanbase will be able to swerve the terrestrial commissioning process and go straight to their fanbase, as has happened in the music industry, and is starting to happen in the US.


This also allows "creators" greater freedom in what they write about/how they write about it, and seems to be the most obvious and rapid way to address the still-notable under-representation of people of colour, women and the working classes. Audiences will, in effect, become commissioners.”


Steve North, General Manager of UKTV entertainment channels Dave and Gold revealed an optimistic enthusiasm for the future of TV. “There’s the death of TV that’s been proclaimed for many, many years. But actually when you look at the numbers that’s really not true—there are still huge amounts of people spending a lot of time watching TV. The new services, the Netflix, Amazon Prime, those kind of over-the-top subscription blog services have only added to people watching television. People are actually spending more time in front of their TV sets, they’re just using them in a slightly different way nowadays.”


New technology also played a leading role in opinions. Sony's Home Entertainment Specialist, Nick Roos proclaimed that, “Some people don’t have the physical space for a really big screen size or a wall big enough for a projector. So they don't have space for the cinema experience. If the kids are in bed and you want to watch a movie by yourself, then it’s a great solution to use a VR headset, put on a good pair of headphones and get your full cinematic experience without disturbing the neighbours and without the need for a massive living room.”


The final word goes to Radio Times editor, Ben Preston, “For viewers, the future will bring a world of choice that's bigger—and better—than ever. Every day we'll be able to choose from practically every show that's ever been made, together with a constant stream of new programmes. And we'll be able to watch them at the time of our choosing, wherever we happen to be—in the living room, in bed or on the way home from work (watching TV on the way to work just doesn’t feel right!).


“There'll still be channels like BBC1, ITV and Channel 4 but millions of viewers will effectively make their own schedules by picking and choosing the shows they want to watch. And at the heart of this new world of choice will be Radio Times—in print, on your mobile phone and on your television screens, helping you discover the best programmes.”



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