Coronavirus and TV: time to make a virtue out of necessity
As broadcasts of sporting events and soaps face the chop, Raymond Snoddy has a solution to help maintain the national spirit and keep the ad money flowing
On the slopes of the Sallagh hills outside Ballygally, Co Antrim there is a remarkable sight – a fully developed Viking village circa 900 AD.
There is another further down the Antrim coast by the beautiful Torr Head, both areas where Games of Thrones was shot.
Around now filming was about to start on The Northman, supposedly set in Iceland, a multi-million pound film by Lighthouse director Robert Eggars and starring, among others, Nicole Kidman.
The sets are empty courtesy of the coronavirus, with filming suspended. Who knows whether the costly Viking village on Sallagh will ever be used?
Netflix has suspended filming of the second series of The Witcher in the UK and the BBC has announced that filming of new series of Peaky Blinders and Line of Duty will cease for now.
Horror of horrors for soap fans. The BBC has also just suspended production of EastEnders and can Coronation Street be far behind? Are we heading for a world devoid of soaps, if not soap?
The decisions are probably reflected across the industry. Film and TV production, even outdoors, involves sizeable gatherings of people often working very closely together and you only need one person to fall ill to make it irresponsible to carry on.
Running out of new film and television series affecting schedules of the future doesn’t exactly impact society with the immediacy of a shortage of toilet rolls or long-life milk.
But television, in particular, faces a series of interesting challenges, some more pressing than others.
There is no shortage of news, some of it unfortunately gripping, although there is also dire humour to be had in the volte-faces of politicians. In extremis clips of Fox News presenters on Twitter would lift the darkest mood.
The problem rests with a largely single story news agenda, which brings little if any good news, at least for the moment.
The danger is that the audience will start to suffer disaster fatigue and start to switch off. The alternative – staying unreasonably cheerful - means the media would be giving up on its responsibility to continue delivering hard news whatever the public response.
Having a surfeit of news is, however, a nice problem to have compared with the almost total shutdown of all sport.
This is really serious – all the football leagues, a one-year postponement of Euro 2020, with the rescheduling of the Olympics a racing certainty whatever Japanese politicians say.
This could be a blow to the national psyche like few others. What to do on Saturday afternoons, and the lack of the uplifting music that introduces Match of the Day will cause real distress over time.
Will we ever know whether QPR can beat bottom club Barnsley at home and move on up towards the play-offs?
The answer is simple. Show classic encounters as if they were live with new fresh, contemporary commentators. Motson was much more irritating to more people than was generally acknowledged. Match of the Day can pick and mix from different weeks and viewers can get small prizes for predicting the outcome of what will probably be forgotten games and results. We can even pay more attention to up-to-date analysis.
Profiles of famous sports stars can be produced from the archives or existing programmes given another outing.
Conventional wisdom says interest in televised sport falls off a cliff when it is no longer live. But these are unusual times and the lack of sport and football in particular will have a cumulative effect on the football community like a shortage of vitamin D.
So use your imagination television producers and end this sports drought.
As for the missing series, and some day soon the missing episodes of soaps, there are obvious solutions.
We have got to learn anew the joy and pleasures of repeats, something that has been treated for far too long as a dirty word by the popular newspapers.
A repeat is only a repeat if you haven’t seen it before. There are endless good-quality programmes, which have not been seen by millions of the population.
It often took a while for word of mouth about a new programme to spread at work – when people used to go to work.
At this moment we do not know how long this emergency will last. Those who have been paying attention to what the best scientists are saying will know it will probably be a lot longer than what the more optimistic politicians think.
It may need the successful creation of a vaccine, almost certainly 12 to 18 months away at scale, before groups can gather again safely and that could include the small tribes who produce films and television programmes.
So make a virtue out of necessity and herald the chance to see the first series of Line of Duty and Peaky Blinders. It might even give a boost for BritBox by creating a stronger market for the second series of such programmes, which would have had a high profile unexpected outing.
There must be many stand-alone dramas, profiles, histories that could easily stand another transmission.
This is particularly relevant for commercial channels which have not tended to show multi-million pound productions on their main channel again.
Welcome to the world not of repeats but of a second chance to see television.
As for television advertising there has obviously been a hangover of no longer appropriate ads.
There is not much demand these days for airline or foreign holiday ads.
The advice to major companies has to be to avoid slashing the marketing budget if they can possibly avoid it. Continue advertising the brand to hold on to market share when the upturn comes – as it most assuredly will.
No new ads? Not a problem. Unashamedly show some of the classic brand-building ads of yore combined with simple, current, public-service announcements.
Finally here are a couple of snippets of good news.
The BBC has taken the right decision to suspend licence fee payments for most over 75-year-olds. They have enough to cope with at the moment.
There is also a rare piece of good news for the Government. The coronavirus has given relevant ministers the cover to breach the petty, self-damaging Johnson ban on appearances on the Today programme. If the Prime Minister is wise, a big if, the silly vendetta against the BBC will just be quietly dropped.
After all there are rather more important matters to deal with.