21 October, 2007

Ban the TV Licence ... but then what?

We live is a mutually-supportive society. You don't just pay for the bits you want; you pay what you can afford so that we all have a good standard of living. It's how you were born, it's how you'll be looked after when you get old, it's how we avoid a situation where a nurse has to rifle through your wallet before they operate on you. Yet some people take real issue against the TV licence and think their lives would be immeasurably better if they just paid for the stuff they want.

The first thing to remember though is what the TV licence money is spent on. It doesn't just pay for two terrestrial channels, five digital channels, four national radio stations, a stack of local and digital radio stations and bbc.co.uk. It also pays for the infrastructure that allows you to watch other channels. For instance, it funds the facilities Channel Four use to broadcast through. It pays for the rental of studio facilities that other companies like ITV use part-time that, without that financial input from the BBC, wouldn't be able to be sustained. The licence fee is something that is finely balanced and its removal would undermine British broadcasting, which is why anyone who argues for the abolition of the licence fee hasn't done their homework - or has an ulterior motive (at a guess, profit at the expense of what you want). Murdoch might think he could do without a BBC monopoly, but he couldn't provide the services needed in the UK, and he has no interest in doing so either. Just look at the amount of homegrown quality drama on his channels.

Okay, have you finished doing that? Good.

It was decided long ago that the BBC gets all the licence fee and the commercial sector gets all the advertising. This is why you don't get commercial advertising on licence-fee-funded BBC services (you think you do? Look again - you don't. BBC Worldwide and UK TV are not licence-fee-funded). By ensuring that the BBC doesn't take revenue from advertisers during its broadcasts, this allows ITV, Sky and other commercial networks to survive. This is also why the BBC's audience share is more important than ratings - if the BBC gets a 50% share - wow, great. If it gets a 60% share - bad news. This would damage the other channels. Which is why the BBC has to provide both populist entertainment AND niche special interest programmes. If it only did big commercial programmes, it would damage British TV irreperably - not least because it would cease to serve the whole nation by trying to ensure there's at least something on that will interest you enough times of the year.

Your TV licence also pays for services that you might not use yourself, but would be grossly unfair to leave to subscription. Why should only deaf people pay for the technology for subtitling, when hearing people don't need it yet but might in the future? What about children's TV? They can't pay for that, so who does? We do, to ensure that the benefits we enjoyed while growing up are there for the next generation, for past generations no longer in the workplace and people who through no fault of their own are unable to work, such as the disabled.

Part of the licence fee is also invested in the future - there's an entire division called 'future media & technology' which develops things like the iPlayer (which, as I mentioned before, you don't actually need a TV licence for, if you don't actually watch live streamed content on it, even though your TV licence paid for it - neat, eh?). Your TV licence pays for BBC archives to be able to store these programmes for future use, although it *doesn't* wholly pay for restoration - that's partly funded by BBC Worldwide and other commercial BBC services to ensure they can continue to export programmes and make them commercially available. It also *doesn't* pay for you to see the programmes again and again for free; outside of a window of about 18 months, you need to pay for the rights to rebroadcast a programme again, which is why we get endless repeats of 'Two Pints of Lager' (covered by a current rights agreement to broadcast within a specific period of time) but don't get many terrestrial repeats of old dramas from the 1970s, because the cost of paying the writers and actors is just too high to do that very often.

On a sidenote there, it's funny how much importance is being placed on the BBC using repeats to cover the shortfall of the licence fee settlement. People want to see classic comedies and dramas... but apparently don't want repeats. Apparently, a repeat is another chance to see something you didn't want to see in the first place, while classic TV is, er, 'Only Fools and Horses' and 'Doctor Who', which remain the most-requested programme for repeats, despite being commercially available and despite them never getting particularly huge ratings when they are repeated. Like so much of television, even repeats are a special interest.

Just a final bit of maths here. If you only watch 'Doctor Who' and 'Doctor Who Confidential' and nothing else on any other channel, then if we apply the iTunes business model, you've watched the equivalent of £49.14 of content for just 13 weeks of TV. If you were to only watch the equivalent amount of TV hours (just 90 minutes) every week throughout the year, your iTunes bill would come to £196.56.

If your kids watch 'Totally Doctor Who' too, that goes up to £71.82 for the duration of its run, that goes up to £294.84 (iTunes charges the same for a 30-minute TV show as it does for a 50-minute one). Now, factor in all the other shows you might want to watch that have an interview with John Barrowman, or David Tennant, or "Children in Need' specials and that comes to...

Oh, wait, iTunes doesn't have any British shows. Anyone got any other ideas for how we can pay for this stuff?

17 October, 2007

Polly Wolly Doodle

This blogging lark is such a burden when you imagine someone's reading your nonsense. But tonight I discovered that there's software available to big corporations to discover what the blogsphere has been saying without actually anyone from the corporation reading what you've actually written.

So, for those of you out there who require a daily ejaculation (aka 'wankers'), there now follows a round of YouTube links, starting with Sesame Street, doing 'Do the Right Thing':

And this is a staggering clip from the actual film, involving an amazing litany of racist diatribe:

Meanwhile, in this Microsoft, McDonalds, ITV, Sky News, Coca Cola, Mattel, Manchester United, Adidas-addicted world, this might really help to mess up the stats of globalisation. Or, indeed, not.

09 October, 2007

Laid Them on the Green

They might be the cause of embarrassment if you reveal them during a karaoke performance, but the mondegreen is often a thing of pleasure. That wonderful moment when you realise that they lyrics to a song weren't quite how you thought they were.

My first experience of this was in 'I Will Survive' by Gloria Gaynor, in which my seven-year-old self was convinced the song was about a woman refusing to be friends with a boy who bullied her at school. After all, 'weren't you the one who tried to hit me with your bike?' Later on, one of my oldest friends tried to convince me that Madonna's 'La Isla Bonita' contained the words 'Last night I slept with some Dago' and 'Chocolate goolies, Ice for free.' I wasn't fooled.

Madonna seems to have a real skill for these things though. Who can forget 'Erotica', where she urges: 'Bill Oddie, Bill Oddie - put your hands all over Bill Oddie'? Or that glorious chorus from 'Ray of Light' where she eulogises over a former Brookside actress's obsession with glitterball-illuminated garden pond decorations: 'Anna Friel - is a disco gnome!'

A really obscure one is the reluctance of Liberty X to acknowledge how influential a certain Doctor Who writer has been on their career. Why else would they take time out from their cover of 'Ain't Nobody' to refer to 'The Russell T we cannot mention'?

Once you start noticing mondegreens, you begin to hear them all over the place. My own version of it is, I think, slightly influenced by Tourette's Syndrome as I frequently hear people say the most filthy things only for them to repeat themselves and I discover they were actually asking me if I could flick their cat out or something.

And that, your honour, is my defence...

(p.s. – I do love that my spellchecker doesn’t recognise the word 'Tourette's' and offers 'toilette' as an alternative. Is it trying to say I'm a potty mouth?)

06 October, 2007

Bears, Sausages and Divas

'Do you like Madonna,' shouts the self-proclaimed Diva, and considering the clientele, the response was surprisingly apathetic at best. It's the launch night of an event for gentlemen of a certain persuasion, certain weight and certain type of facial hair that goes by the name of 'Ursus', and the cabaret act is... okay, although I find myself conjuring up Simon Cowell to be really off-hand with her.

I'm there for most of the night with my dear friend David, who's a sweet, sensitive soul who doesn't drink, so I'm on Shandy so as not to annoy him (not that he'd ever judge me, but I'd hate to give him cause to). In truth, the first part of the night is like a cut-price Duckie without the surprises but the second DJ manages to play a few electro-tunes that sparked the room up, including 'Over and Over' by Hot Chip. And the compere is a little too in your face and desperate. It's launch night, he's allowed to be, but I have to say his plate of sausages nearly turned my stomach.

It's strange being in a room full of people you mainly know from the internet. It's a bit like Terminator 2, where your inner T-1000 is scanning the room and applying data that you've skimmed from their online profiles: '6' 2", blue eyes, active, likes to be spanked... 5' 10" (liar!!), bottom, likes role-play... 5' 11", real name Steve, total homer sexual....'

Then there's the moment you realise you're the only person in the room who seems to be glad they're playing 'Wordy Rappinghood' (12" Version) by the Tom Tom Club - or maybe it just feels like that.

So then it's home and I manage to sprint across Brixton to catch my bus and be back in time to spend an hour listening to 'Uptown Top Ranking' and 'The Happy Man' by Thomas Lang, which helps to take the edge off the week. Tomorrow, it's a deliberate day of leisure, then on Sunday I'm being interviewed for a documentary to appear on a forthcoming Doctor Who DVD, in my 'TV and film historian' guise. I've got a lot of my comments rehearsed, but I know most of what I will say is going to be used as airfill. I just have to make sure I'm not used to just tell the story, but instead have something political or socially engaging to say, rather than 'I like dis wun' or 'Dat wus crappe'.

We shall see. I'll probably end up doing the Whovian equivalent of 'hats, gloves and shoes'...

02 October, 2007


My flatmate managed to get tickets for the first night of recordings for Jack Dee's Live at the Apollo - or as it's now called, Live at the Apollo as Jack's only hosting the first edition.

We took our seats in the circle and waited for the show to begin, and it took us just a few seconds to realise that the speakers in the circle hadn't been switched on. My flatmate went to investigate and was treated with utter indifference by the staff, as was I when I left the theatre and asked who the other acts were that night, only to be told by the grunt on the door that he couldn't possibly give that kind of information out. I felt the need to tell him that it didn't matter as we wouldn't be able to understand a fucking word they were saying anyway.

This coupled with a rude little hoodie who tried to push us out of the way as he walked down the street - which provoked me to punch him full-on in the back once I regained my balance - and it wasn't a good night all in all.

Anyway, as a preview for the broadcast of tonight's show on BBC1 this coming Friday, here's Russell Howard. See if you can understand him, because we couldn't.

We might have stayed to see the second episode, hosted with Jimmy Carr - at least he annunciates when he speaks. But his main act was possibly Alan Carr (he of the grating voice from Channel 4) and frankly, everyone so far that night had already sounded like a bee trapped in a jam-jar.

I'd like to dedicate this entry to everyone who was unfortunate enough to endure the rudeness of the staff on the door at the Apollo Hammersmith.