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Month Roundup: October 2009

Simon Pitt | News | Thursday 19th November 2009

The month began badly for Five. Massive losses forced them to consider switching to pay-TV. Dawn Airey, CEO of Five, said that the "broadcasting business is pretty much a loss leader". According to Toby Syfret of Enders Analysis, going to pay-TV would be a "massive risk" for Five.

Over in BBC land, the BBC's entertainment department came under attack for not producing any good programmes. One controller told Broadcast that "there is a lot of worry about the level of provision". In a statement the BBC said "to suggest the department is failing is utter nonsense". Critics described BBC's Entertainment department as a "sausage factory", churning out a continuous string of unoriginal formats.

On the 8th October, TS Eliot was revealed to be the nation's favourite poet. John Donne came in second, presumably thanks to Simon Scharma's documentary. "I'm delighted," said Alan Yentob, Creative Director of the BBC (whatever that means), "it's good to see that the classic texts still hold a strong place in people's affection". TS Eliot topped an online poll where probably about 30 people voted. According to the results of the poll, everyone in the country has read and loves The Wasteland, which is fantastic news.

While the BBC was busy congratulating themselves about everyone being so clever and loving poetry, ITV ran into even more problems when Sir Michael Bishop dropped out of the running as a candidate for ITV chairman. "The committee has revised its shortlist accordingly and is continuing its search with all due speed" said ITV, in yet another bland statement of barely disguised panic. This is not the first setback for ITV. Talks fell apart in Sptember with Tony Ball when he asked for a £42 million salary. Having failed to find a new CEO or a new chairman, ITV had a reshuffle of their journalism department and sacked two thirds of the Tonight team.

Meanwhile the media got very excited by the prospect of a racist appearing on Question Time. "The BBC's disgraceful BNP stunt" is giving publicity to these fascists, screamed The Guardian. Well, a good job they and all the other newspapers didn't give the BNP anymore publicity by putting the story on the front page all week. Oh wait, they did. As it turned out this particular edition of Question Time wasn't a standard episode at all. Instead it was the pilot for a new BBC quiz show Bash the Racist, where each contestant has to show that they're more outraged by racism than anyone else. In the week after the broadcast newspapers found themselves inverting their headlines. Rather than the BBC being a bunch of racist Nazis who were giving the most evil man in Britain a platform, they were now Liberal hypocrites, biased against poor old Nicky and had given the loveable racist a hard time. During the broadcast, the whole of the modern world was summed up by one anonymous Twitter user who tweeted halfway through the proceedings: "wtf is #bbcqt?". Meanwhile, the BBC announced on their website that they would now be running a poll to find Britain's favourite racist.

Speaking of newspapers, it was a mixed month for London papers. The London Paper folded (literally and metaphorically) in September, and at the start of October the Evening Standard announced that it would stop charging. This cast doubt on the future of London Lite. Until 2006 it had been Standard Lite, and was a freesheet version of the more detailed Evening Standard. The London Lite's target audience had been people who couldn't be bothered to buy The Evening Standard. With The Evening Standard going free, it was announced that the last edition of the London Lite would be given away on 13th November.

Despite having Britain's foremost racist round for tea, it wasn't a very good month for the BBC either. On the 20th October the BBC Trust rejected the proposal for an online federation of public service broadcasters. The plans "were too complicated" said the BBC Trust. Which probably meant they didn't understand them. On the 29th October the Trust agreed to a 25% pay cut in senior management pay. We "need to recognise that we are in a different economic climate", said Mark Thompson, agreeing a very gradual and minor reduction to his £850,000 a year salary. Hard times, indeed.

The BBC didn't just have the Trust to content with. Rumours spread that they will face a 30% cut to the licence fee if the Tories get into power. "It would be like giving a treatment to a patient in one giant dose that causes them to die," one source told Broadcast. "This is all speculation" said a BBC spokesman, proving that it's not just ITV that can release bland statements. The BBC internal size and scope review is considering a cut of 10%.

It was a good month, though, for fans of online webisodes (if there is anyone that falls into that category). The BBC announced that they would be making online episodes of Casualty and Eastenders postcode-themed spin-off, E20. The BBC described it as a "unique opportunity to see the much loved world of Walford [...] through the eyes of the young newcomers". Sounds like sitting in a room with someone who doesn't watch Eastenders and watching their reaction. Riveting. Luckily by putting it out of the way on the web, the BBC has made the forgettable, missable.

SP



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