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Open Letter to the Head of Sky Television

by James Graham 

Posted: 09 August 2010
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Open letter to the head of Sky Television

Dear Sir,

I write to offer you a perspective on the grass-roots, receiving-end of your organisational efforts in television broadcasting. Put simply - this is the way it looks to my wife and me. There must be others like us, though perhaps not so many as to cause you much concern. As you say in your Annual Report, ‘We’ve continued to perform well by focusing on quality, value and service. Over nine million customers now enjoy the best in entertainment through Sky’.

This is what happens in our house. We watch only recorded programmes, partly to be free to watch them when we like but also so that the advertising can be fast-forwarded. We are frankly sick and tired of advertising. Much of it we simply find silly, which might be tolerable if a few seconds’ silliness were seen only once, but since it is repeated ad nauseam the whole thing becomes very tedious. Even the more understated or imaginative ads become tedious by repetition.

We don’t take kindly to the tone of most ads - the pressure applied by most voice-overs, urging us to buy this or that, ‘go compare’, do it now. Advertising is almost as intrusive as if a door-to-door salesman were to ring the doorbell every ten minutes. It is little better than if, during a live Shakespeare theatre performance, someone were to wander on to the stage between scenes and tout injury compensation or broadband packages.

Of course this recording system means we have to view programmes with remote in hand. You never quite get used to it, but it has to be done because there’s something very unsatisfactory about watching any programme, especially one of the rare quality productions, which is interspersed with bursts of inanity or noisy hectoring. There’s something very ill-mannered about advertising breaks; one wants to say, ‘Excuse me, do you mind? We were watching this’.

Finding enough programmes to record is anything but easy. Needles and haystacks spring readily to mind. If we can compile two hours viewing a day, we reckon we have done well.

There is no better example in any field of human endeavour of the inverse ratio between quantity and quality. There is so much channel space that it can never be filled except with stuff that mostly ranges from just acceptable to abysmal - or is a repeat of a repeat.

Old series are repeated again and again, seemingly in random order. Part 1 of a two-part story is shown, then Part 2 does not appear, or Part 1 of a different story is shown instead. One imagines the broadcaster employing a boy with a little trolley who picks out DVDs at random and sticks them in the machine. Anything will do. There are short-term and long-term repeats. If an episode in a detective series is repeated after a year, the memory of ‘whodunnit’ might just have faded. If it is repeated after only a week or so, there’s no point in viewing it again.

How long is it possible to regurgitate old material? We can sometimes view a better quality show three times over, and still enjoy it, but the fourth and subsequent repeats are a dead letter. I sometimes imagine our grandchildren’s grandchildren turning on the TV - what size will it be by then, and what technological wonders will it boast, beyond HD and 3D? - and still finding ‘Only Fools and Horses’ (second series) and ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ (third series).

Ideas which might make a single interesting documentary, or sustain interest over a short series, are milked until they are dry and long after. Among these are video compilations of bad drivers and cute pets, ice road truckers and myth-busters. History equals Hitler plus Ancient Egypt, with a garnish of occult mysteries and codes, all done to death.

So viewing becomes a matter of rummaging for quality in a junk-store of the third-rate and worse. And then viewing with remote at the ready to try to minimise the intrusive commercials which threaten to spoil even the best of shows. If only the ads could be conjured away with a magic wand!

Speaking of which, you will be aware of the existence of such magic wands as DVRMSToolbox and Comskip, which enable the viewer to skip ads when recording. And no doubt you will be well aware of the conundrum we have here. If increasing numbers of viewers find ways to ignore advertising completely, either by eliminating ads from recordings, or even by patient fast-forwarding, advertisers will desert you and look for new ways to infiltrate our consciousness. Many of your hundreds of regurgitation channels will have to close.

Even if some advertisers are content with static pop-ups which can be read even while fast-forwarding, ‘logo-bugs’ (banners running across the foot of the screen), or product placement within shows, these will remain poor substitutes.

If these are your problems, our problem as always is finding ways to somehow enjoy television. We supplement our recorded commercial TV with movies on DVD, as well as seamless BBC programmes of course. We are retired people and need home entertainment; though we both read a good deal and have other interests, we don’t want to throw away the box. Our day-to-day recording system is the best solution we can come up with; do you have any better ideas?

Yours etc

James Graham.

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Comments by other Members

NMott at 21:34 on 09 August 2010  Report this post
I admire the brio, but I don't think you're going to get very far complaining about adverts. As I understand it the various channels are simply leased from Sky and the broadcasters make a profit by selling advertising space. It's a double edged sword: No advertising = no programmes.
At least the adverts are no longer blasting us at max volume. Maybe the times I phoned up Sky and shouted my complaint down the customer helpline helped in that respect.

- NaomiM

Richard Brown at 10:02 on 22 August 2010  Report this post

I loved the analogy of the interrupted Shakespeare play. Maybe you're on to something! If it's true that technology will eventually destroy the efficacy of ads then live commercials will come into their own. The audience is hardly likely to troop out of the theatre every time someone bursts out of a trapdoor to tell us to 'go compare'.

Sadly I suppose that Naomi is absolutely right that we're for ever stuck with TV advertisements but like her I revelled in the rant.


James Graham at 19:47 on 30 August 2010  Report this post
Naomi, you're right of course - it's a bind. No adverts, no television (other than the few BBC channels). It's interesting about the volume - I did hear that some broadcasters had been taken to task for jacking it up during breaks.

Richard - The audience is hardly likely to troop out of the theatre every time someone bursts out of a trapdoor to tell us to 'go compare'. If that fat clown came on to a stage and started singing 'Go compare' I'd walk out. Maybe I'd come back, though - especially if it was Ibsen. Live commercials...on the street perhaps? Injury lawyers doing street theatre? Buskers selling chicken dinners?

Thank you for your comments.


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