Eddie Mair: "I'm caught in my own telly timewarp"

"I couldn't think of anything outside news and current affairs that I watch 'live'"

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Eddie Mair: "I'm caught in my own telly timewarp"
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Eddie Mair

Jeremy Vine apparently checked his Newsnight viewing figures every morning. Every morning. I have begged Jeremy to write a book about this sort of thing.

In telly, the overnight audience statistics give an almost instant daily readout of how many people watched, how old they were, which social class they belong to and which genitals they have. In radio, we get those figures once every three months. We aren’t slaves to the “overnights”. I like to think this makes us true public service broadcasters, guided not by the travails of our market share and naked popularity, but by our Reithian principles. It’s like a calling.

But as you know I’m full of crap. The truth is, if radio could afford to have overnight statistics, we’d be studying them more closely than a tax inspector going through Jimmy Carr’s receipts. Did our ten-minute discussion on the euro cause a switch-off at 17.10? Was there a spike in listeners for our talking goat item at 17.53? I don’t doubt that we would tailor our programmes to suit what we thought the figures were telling us.

Thankfully, it’s unlikely to happen, not least because in TV the hegemony of the overnights is waning. The Personal Video Recorder with its time-shifting magic means programme-makers can no longer judge the success of their ventures on the snapshot of the overnights.

Sky’s Director of Spending Money, Stuart Murphy, told The Guardian recently: “It’s disingenuous to say we don’t look at all at overnights… But it feels a bit thick. It’s like judging someone on the first date and not whether it’s been a three-year success.”

One of the shows Stuart airs on Sky Atlantic is Smash, a new musical drama that, when it aired on NBC, had overnight figures so low they were mistaken for Piers Morgan’s. But America’s PVRs were whirring… particularly those belonging to people aged 18-49 that advertisers love. The flop in the overnights has been given a second series. The New York Times declared that Smash had been “saved by delayed viewership”.

The other week Radio Times rang to enquire about my viewing and listening habits. I couldn’t think of anything outside news and current affairs that I watch “live”. Now we can stream or download TV from the recent past or ancient history, I’m caught in my own telly timewarp. Thank goodness I have the wardrobe to match.

I watched the first three seasons of Breaking Bad in quick succession. Yesterday I caught the first two episodes of House dating from 2004; and they only stopped making House this year. I’ve also taken to watching, for the first time, Brideshead Revisited. All of this viewed by means other than conventional television. How will they count my viewership?

It makes office talks about last night’s telly viewing redundant. “Did you catch EastEnders?” “No, but I’m wondering whether Sebastian’s teddy is going to survive the series.” “What about Corrie?” “Yes, that Ena Sharples sure can dish it out.”

So, please, no hints about how Brideshead finishes, or whether Hugh Laurie cheers up. And not a word about how the Brits did at Wimbledon. I’ve got the whole thing stacked up on my PVR and will watch it in its entirety in 2015. 

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