Self-congratulation is not the best way to build a TV brand

I found myself sipping champagne at a glitzy party thrown by Yorkshire Television last week to celebrate 25 years of Emmerdale, ITV’s rural soap.

I found myself sipping champagne at a glitzy party thrown by

Yorkshire Television last week to celebrate 25 years of Emmerdale, ITV’s

rural soap.



It proved a perfect place to open up a discussion about the wisdom, let

alone point, of marking media anniversaries.



I asked one of Granada’s most senior executives who, thanks to the

takeover, will shortly assume responsibility for the thrice-weekly

strand whether the show’s 11 million viewers needed to be reminded of

how long Emmerdale had been running. Especially since ITV is currently

in a very unsentimental mood, in the middle of a 100-day rethink of its

tired schedule.



This executive confided that media anniversaries were dangerous things,

not occasions for indulgence. They need careful thought if they are to

impinge upon the public in any way, and be used in building the

brand.



For example, when Coronation Street celebrated 30 years with a

pretentious lecture by Roy Hattersley applauding its role as a modern

day chronicler a la Dickens, Granada got it seriously wrong. The event

had managed to send out precisely the wrong sort of signals to the

younger audience it desperately needs.



If you are 16 would you want to watch a programme recommended by someone

the age of your grandfather? On the other hand, long-running dramas have

huge loyal audiences: anniversaries remind them of how favourite

programmes remain a constant in a changing world.



Emmerdale is not the only programme currently celebrating its

longevity.



The BBC is going through something of an orgy of anniversaries: it is

celebrating 75 years of its first appearance as a radio service, 40

years of BBC Education, 40 years of the Natural History Unit, 40 years

of the Today programme, 30 years of Radio 1. This follows last autumn’s

celebrations of 60 years of BBC TV, BBC Children’s programmes, etc. If

these were just matters of private celebration perhaps it would not

matter. But they are very clearly meant to be marketing occasions

involving the audience, reminding us, as the BBC’s special CD-ROM says,

of its ’enormous contribution’ to our lives, cradle to grave.



The BBC’s anniversary is intruding onto the airwaves with special

compilations, repeats and discussions: all inevitably looking backwards.

There is even a four-part documentary, Auntie - the Inside Story of the

BBC. And this is perhaps the point at which the game is given away. The

documentary has stopped 11 years ago, and saved the current Birtist

regime from scrutiny - a very different standard to that applied to Alan

Clark’s recent History of the Conservative Party, which came bang up to

date.



Anniversaries matter to institutions. A broadcaster as powerful as the

BBC ought to take care: too much controlled self-congratulation can be a

dangerous thing.



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