Empire (September 2007) has an interesting article “My Week in TV Hell” has an interesting article about films on terrestrial television in the UK. I thought it was a fluff piece at first: Dorian Lynskey watches every film shown on the five terrestrial analogue services in the UK for a week. However once you get past the humorous bits there are a number of interesting points about the changes to the films shown on those channels.
Foreign films are now shown on BBC4 rather than a terrestrial channel. Seasons of works by a director, actor, writer or based around some other theme are gone or so short as to no longer really be a season. Films made before 1940 and cult classics have gone too. All of them have gone to digital ghettos. They don’t even get shown in the insomniac slot because that’s now filled with money printing phone in quizzes and twenty-four hour news channels.
Only two of the films shown that week make it into the top 30 for the channel they were on. The biggest movies are pulling in smaller audiences than popular quiz shows but the prices charged by the studios haven’t fallen to reflect this. “Movies on terrestrial television don’t perform the way they used to.” says one Vanessa Brookman, Five’s controller of acquisitions. With a wait of two to three years from release before they get to show them is it any surprise film premiers don’t get an audience? Brookman also says that the unless prices reflect value they will purchase fewer films.
Looking at it from the opposite point of view John Rogers’ blog pointed me at an article on Slate about where film companies make their money from television rights. Now it looks like the connection between television companies and film companies is stitched up pretty tight. There may be no incentive for a media company with film and television divisions to change the pricing structures because for they are mostly shuffling the money around from one part of the company to another.
So why does this bother me?
Films are part of our cultural landscape. I know they influence my writing just as much as books or television drama does. Most of those films I first saw on terrestrial television, often by accident: “The League of Gentlemen“, “Hell is a City“, “Du rififi chez les hommes“, “The Killers” and “The Killer“. I could carry on but the list would be too long. I could keep going. I’ve gone on to buy many of them on DVD which must be good for the film company. Many of these films aren’t the kind of films that will be touted around as part of the British Summer of Films or get a mention on the BBC’s British Film Forever. Instead they will be pushed into a digital television ghetto for film buffs who will buy the DVD or gather dust till they are forgotten.
Which brings me neatly round to where this little rant started in my head…
Tonight the British Summer of Films is celebrating “Goldfinger” by showing it at cinemas. However this seems to involve showing it once at each participating cinema. Sometimes (as at FACT in Liverpool) the shows are as early as 6pm. 6pm on a Tuesday. I hope they got good numbers through the door but I doubt it somehow and that will be used to justify not showing it at a time more people might have made. If they are really serious about a summer of British film maybe the films chosen should be getting a wider release? If they don’t think “Goldfinger” will get audiences what will?
I’ve not written a great piece of English literature let alone simply writing a great book. I doubt I ever will. However I’d hate to think someone else might but won’t get the chance because this part of our heritage will be lost to them. We have access to our finest works of art in galleries, to our historic buildings, to great museums and to libraries of books. Shouldn’t we have access to these films too in an accessible way?