It is a truth, universally acknowledged…

(or now is the summer of our great content)


The silly season is upon us and whilst we tend to avoid mutual backslapping at Freesat Towers, this morning all of us are feeling inspired and – dare we say it – rather proud to be British.

Inspired because last night we hosted the fifth annual Freesat Awards, where we saluted the best free television and radio successes of the last year.

And proud to be British because the Awards were all about the TV and radio that Britain loves – demonstrated through quintessentially Brit winners such as Ant and Dec, Twenty Twelve and Broadchurch.

And it seemed rather fitting, in this sun-drenched week, gripped by Murray mania and the exploits of the British Lions Down Under, that we were able to come together and celebrate the great British TV that we all love. Congratulations to all our winners!

In fact, we here at Freesat think that British TV is having something of a mini halcyon age, even after taking our (admittedly biased) hats off, both commercially and creatively.

The UK exports more formats overseas than any other country in the world. The UK is second only to the US in total programme exports; ITV commissioned over 100 programmes in 2012; and Downton Abbey alone has now been exported to over 100 countries, and counting.

But this creative quality is neither an accident nor a coincidence. It takes years of investment to make great quality radio and TV. The BBC and ITV alone spent £2.5bn on TV and radio in 2011. And we know well that investment in the media industry is actually all about ideas and people – as well as execution. And that’s what ensures the UK remains on top of the TV tree.

That same quality of programming is what, interestingly, keeps subscription-free TV so great.

The UK is something of anomaly in terms of the power and strength of free-to-air TV. Around 50% of UK homes get their main TV service from a free-to-air provider like Freesat. This is a really high number full stop – and it’s far, far higher than the other markets that lead the world in producing and exporting TV programmes. The U.S., in contrast, has 90% Pay TV population.

Put very simply, it’s because of the quality of programmes on free-to-air TV that so many viewers chose to watch subscription-free and don’t feel the need to go elsewhere – and we here at Freesat are really proud to be a part of that very British quirk of nature.

But the current success of UK broadcasting comes at a time when a lot of changes, short- and long-term, are occurring in the TV market. Programme-makers face continued accusations of dumbing down; ‘binge’ watching may be on the rise; and us viewers, apparently, have shorter and shorter attention spans – with TV-time multitasking on the rise.

All of these trends and market traits are interesting, and pose real challenges for broadcasters and programme-makers alike – because as we’ve said, great TV doesn’t come cheap.

So maybe we’re pushing the envelope way too far now, but indulge us, the sun’s out after all… We started to wonder if there might be parallels with another highly creative – and economically challenging – age the 1920s.

Cameraman PosterAfter all, there was the game-changing new creative format, the Talkies; the rise of Hollywood from nowhere; and the exotic magnetism of affordable cinema, which together permanently altered the global entertainment market and allowed for the invention of television a decade later.

TV may not be new to 2013 in the way that Hollywood was in the 1920s, but as a medium, it’s now attracting the kind of talent, production values and quality that was once restricted to the big screen.

So which of the trends and which of the players of today could have the same impact one hundred years on? Ideas welcome, and we will continue to ponder.

But one thing is certain, indeed there is a truth universally acknowledged*, we must never forget from the 1920s….

Great programming, be that gripping drama, cutting-edge documentaries or inspiring children’s television, will always be great programming, no matter what the format, or how it’s viewed. And viewers will always gravitate towards what’s good – and arguably what’s subscription-free, no matter where it is.

So, while we all consider what’s really changed and what’s yet to come, over a Pimms in the park, let’s not forget it’s the viewer that really rules the waves** – and long may Britain’s viewers be the ones leading the charge.

Emma Scott – Managing Director – Freesat

*Had to get some Jane Austen in
**We think that’s quite enough patriotism for one day. We are British after all.

By Freesat