At 8pm on Friday 10 August 2001, the unthinkable happened – the great soap-loving public of our fair land were asked to make an impossible decision… EastEnders or Coronation Street?
For many it was like being asked to choose between air and water, but choose they must. Unfortunately for the punters, Sky+ wasn’t to launch for another month, so it was all hands to the pump programming the VHS recorders – or simply miss an instalment of one of the nation’s favourite shows.
On that occasion EastEnders triumphed in the overnight ratings, pulling in 8.4 million viewers to BBC1 for its new Friday 8pm slot (the product of the soap’s move from three to four shows a week), while ITV and Corrie could only manage 7.3m.
The broadcasters accused one another of deliberate dirty tricks, everyone got very flustered and the next week ITV moved Corrie to 7:30pm.
The upshot – the BBC got a little boost for their flagship show… and the viewers lost out.
More than a decade later, and nothing has changed. As the BBC’s new talent show, The Voice UK, looks set to clash with ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent, once again the losers will not be the broadcasters arguing over five minute ratings data – it will be you and I, the television viewing public.
You see, most people don’t care if BBC or ITV have the most people watching their talent show – they just want to be entertained, and not miss out.
The reality of the situation is that, like EastEnders and Corrie, both The Voice and BGT will appeal to a similar type of person. The talent show demographic is skewed slightly towards a lower social class, attracts a youngish audience and, in most cases, is favoured by more women than men.
Now whoever’s fault it is that these two shows will overlap, they really shouldn’t, because the people that like one will almost certainly like the other – so why make them choose?
But people can just Sky+ one and watch the other, I hear you say. Well, yes, this is true in some cases (although not everyone has a recording device) – but big talent shows are event TV, not something people want to watch a day later on catch-up.
I can guarantee you that a week on Saturday, the main Twitter trends will be the names of coaches/judges and contestants on both The Voice and BGT. The broadcasters will actively encourage this by flashing hashtags across the screen. Likewise, websites across the land will be live-blogging and soliciting instant commentary from fans about what they’re seeing on their screens.
Love it or hate it, this instantaneous and interactive element of television is here to stay. And you know what? People enjoy being part of the action. But how can they join the debate on Facebook, Twitter or, for example, RadioTimes.com, if the shows are overlapping?
Simple – they can’t.
We’ve seen this silly scheduling happen in recent years with the ongoing Strictly v The X Factor spats – yes, it makes for exciting headlines in the media pages, but for the viewer, it’s just frustrating.
And so, with a few hours left until the final schedules are released, this is my plea to BBC and ITV. Do the right thing, give the people (those that pay their licence fee and watch your adverts) the chance to enjoy both of your excellent talent shows.
To paraphrase Elton John, Saturday night’s NOT alright for fighting.