"I am here beause I believe television is getting boring, old and boring," said Liz Warner, delivering this year’s annual BAFTA TV lecture last night.
"Television is failing the young," she said. "It is dying – slowly dying – year on year."
She revealed new research from Enders Analysis that the average age of viewers on both BBC One and Two is 62, while on ITV it is 60 and on Channel 5 it is 58. On Channel 4, the average age is 55 and on youth channel E4, it dips to 42. The mean age in the UK population is also 42.
"We have failed to engage with a whole generation of digital talent," she asserted. Efforts from the broadcasters have been too little, too late. Schedules are skewed to the older viewer. Creative, maverick young people are not attracted to work in the industry.
"So, how long have we got before someone finds a note in TV’s pocket saying ‘Do Not Resuscitate’?” Answering her own question, she said: “I think it is now. I think D Day is here."
One way forward, she suggested, was to launch and fund a UK digital platform. “The very least we should be doing is talking about a UK online channel that curates and commissions – breathing new life into hundreds of small start ups and digital indies who are waiting for the money that TV currently receives to show you how to make food against the clock or how to avoid alzehimers.”
Warner has worked as a commissioner and programme maker; she was behind the launch of Big Brother on Channel 4. She went on to found indie TV production company Betty which she sold to Discovery four years ago. After leaving Betty last year, she described how she has made "a trip to the future to find out where the young people were," and found them working in the digital arena.
"TV used to be part of the nineties cultural agenda, part of Tony Blair and Blur and Britpop and Cool Britain. Now it doesn’t feel cool anymore, it is more of a warm bath or nice victoria sponge for an ageing deomographic." She cited the popularity of older TV talent, such as Angela Rippon and Anne Robinson, and the success of shows including The Real Marigold Hotel and Great Canal Journeys with Timothy West and Prunella Scales.
"If TV doesn’t provide the puerile, risky or anarchic, young people will seek it elsewhere online… and not only seek it but make it."
Efforts by broadcasters, she said, were not enough. “BBC Three was a bold foot forward yet to work, All4 is a small step in the right direction – and Vice has cracked it with a young male audience, but it is a magazine with some videos not a fully fledged online digital channel yet.”
The danger, she believes, is that the UK is not investing heavily enough to compete with largely US-based behemoths. “We need to do something before Youtube, Google and Facebook suck our UK intellectual rights back up their USA pipelines,”
She also called for TV to become “naughty” again. “Creativity is born from risk, from freedom, rule breakers and mavericks and eccentrics. Not all of them are easy people but we need the Stephen Lamberts, the Hilary Bells, we need Chris Morris, John Rowland, Kate Teckman and David Glover.”
Pippa Considine is producer of the Televisual Factual Festival, which this year will take place at BAFTA on 9 and 10 November.
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