Friday, March 24

Zero rated? The rise and rise of TV that absolutely no one is watching | Television

There are several possible reactions to the news that the newly launched talkTV registered zero viewers during primetime broadcasts. One is to politely note that a new television station – especially one competing in an already saturated market – will take a little time to find its identity. Another is to realize that life is far too short and precious to spend your evenings watching Piers Morgan whip himself into a wet dribble of performative outrage over something he only slightly believes in. Both reactions are valid. I prefer the latter.

What’s fascinating about talkTV’s failure to set the world on fire is how Blase Morgan is about it. “Linear TV increasingly irrelevant to total eyeball potential for a global show like this, especially with younger viewers who don’t really watch TV any more,” i tweeted last week; a statement in stark contrast to the compulsive willy-waving competition he had with Dan Walker over Good Morning Britain’s ratings.

But, and oh God this hurts, Morgan might have a point. It’s true that talkTV has had zero viewers – in truth, the term means that people might have watched it, but just not in enough numbers for the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (Barb) to register – but it’s far from alone. Last July, in the wake of one of its presenters taking a knee on air, GB News registered zero viewers too. A year before that, Steph McGovern’s lunchtime Channel 4 show did the same. In 2019, shows on the newly launched BBC Scotland recorded zero viewers, and in 2017 so did a repeat of Blue Peter.

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And these are just the zero-rated shows that have managed to Shawshank their way past Barb’s incomprehensibly tight clutches, leaked to the press by television insiders to prove some sort of point. In reality, there’s an enormous chance that we’re all swimming in a world of completely unwatched television.

The medium is already on the decline. The UK analysis firm Digital TV Research this year predicted that 1.4m British households will bail on their pay TV subscriptions by 2027, possibly because we will have figured out that we’re paying through the nose to not watch 99% of what is on our TVs.

Just dig through your EPG and you’ll see. Go all the way down to the bottom, like you do in hotel rooms when you’ve realized that you’ve left your Roku stick at home, and remember: we live in an age where streaming services let us instantly access all of the best television that has ever been made, giving near infinite choice of viewing options.

Now, with that in mind, how many people are going to come home from another unsatisfying day at work and slump down in front of 30 Movie Monsters With Pat Sharp on Now 80s? How many people are going to gently kick their partner at 8.15pm, telling them to turn off Bridgerton because Joyce’s Ulcer, the third episode of the 1989 ITV sitcom Surgical Spirit, just started on Forces TV? And, sure, maybe some people would tune in for Sky Nature HD’s Dogs With Extraordinary Jobs, but my gut feeling is that they would all tune out again after 15 minutes, annoyed by the dogs boasting about their wonderful careers.

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And these shows don’t have the luxury of being heavily advertised by a powerful multinational media corporation, as talkTV does. My four-year-old has never seen a picture of Surgical Spirit on the side of a bus and told me that he wants to watch it, as he did with Piers Morgan Uncensored yesterday morning. It’s fine, by the way. I’ve sold him now.

But if people aren’t watching talkTV, they also aren’t watching hundreds of other shows. We find ourselves in a landscape of televisual orphans, floating around in the ether, forgotten and unwatched. So, to reiterate, Morgan might have a point. People are not watching television, and his show certainly is not the least watched on television at the moment. But, having watched some of it on YouTube, I can tell you it is probably the most insufferable. Hope that helps.

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