Tuning in to the great television turn off …



GRAND isn’t it when, thanks to the dawning of a new normal, you can stop zooming and start meeting up and really talking with people. But it wasn’t the discussion about a book at the first live Book Club I was at recently that stuck most vividly in my mind but a lament about TV.
“I sat down around 9.30 to watch TV, this is my time of day to relax and be entertained, and there was nothing on!” said one of the members. That remark just encapsulates the sense of disappointment, betrayal even, about the abysmal programming on our TV screens.
The other book clubbers joined in the lament and talked about the way that they and people they know were switching off the TV and turning on to streaming channels like Netflix, Amazon and Apple. Someone mentioned several friends who had given up TV altogether and now used their sets for streaming.
There are times — work finished, kids in bed, evening meal over or whatever — when you feel you have earned your time to turn off and switch on as a couch potato. But what do you get? Wall to wall tacky soaps across the networks without even a choice of not watching a soap if you are not a fan, or cookery shows where frantic competitors whizz up the kind of dishes you would be afraid to try in a restaurant, never mind in the kitchen if you could ever find half the ingredients.
Even a shake up of scheduling so that TV stations aren’t all screening the same or similar programmes would offer more choice.
Maybe current affairs programmes – where presenters might as well be interrogating at Guantanamo Bay minus the waterboarding – have begun to pall. Maybe you ask yourself why movies you might actually like to watch are screened long after those with salaries to earn and families to raise are fast asleep.
During lockdown and cocooning we were a captive audience, a time when good TV programming would have been seriously welcome. But did the stations rise to the occasion? Sadly not.
But decent — or indecent depending on your point of view — programmes can be screened.
Look at the soaring viewing figures for Normal People, the mini series based on Sally Rooney’s novel of the same name.
TV viewing figures are going down throughout the Western World, according to Neilsen’s Total Audience report, and when audiences decline advertising revenues go down (public service broadcasters like RTE depend for their revenue partly on TV licences and partly on advertising revenue.)
You could be forgiven for wondering whether those responsible for programming and scheduling on TV are kept locked up in the dark completely unaware of what is happening thanks to their lack of imaginative input on our screens and whatever happened to audience research, telling them our views on their offerings.
Meantime, the revenues for streaming services, especially Netflix, are going up exponentially enabling them to put on spend big budget money on productions. More viewers turn on to watch series like the Queen’s Gambit or Clickbait, currently Netflix’s No. 3 in Ireland.
Then there’s the attraction of being able to watch what you want, when you want without advertisements and if you have to leave the programme you are watching you can pick up where you left off.
The shift to streaming becomes a self-perpetuating circle – the more we are turned off TV the more likely we are to switch over and enjoy streaming services. A pity: it would be good to have attractive choices from both and it’s much easier to do the ironing while watching TV.

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