One of the gripes often vented by documentary filmmakers is that broadcasters want to dumb down their ideas. I saw it happen at Docfest, as a filmmaker with a project about collaboration between hospitals in Brighton and Lusaka was asked whether she could get someone from Holy City to present it. This would be more appealing rather than the boring old bond of friendship between HIV nurses that had crossed cultural, national and religious boundaries, which she had foolishly thought might provide a structure to the piece.
This “bums on seats” way of thinking is the accepted orthodoxy among popular broadcasters, whose simple calculation is that a well known face and an absence of complicated ideas or language will mean more people tuning in and better viewing figures, which can only be a good thing. Even if they were only occasionally glancing at the goggle box whilst dipping a chip in the ketchup, the telly was on and they looked at it; this is regarded as an achievement even among public service broadcasters.
At the other end of the telescope is the Franco-German network Arte. I asked one of their commissioners how much he worried about the number of viewers tuning in to his broadcasts, and he explained to me that Arte is not concerned with sheer numbers. As a crucial part of the European unity idea, Arte’s place at the funding table is sacrosanct, safeguarding peace by uniting Teutons and Gauls with incomprehensible Lebanese cinema. Their survival is not at stake if the numbers fall off, so their chief measurement of success is the value placed on their programmes by the audience.
I was thinking about ways that this might be done in this country- perhaps we could have a memorableness survey?