So now we know the BBC’s response to the big ITV schedule change. EastEnders will move to 7.30pm four nights a week. There will be no episode on Fridays but there will be an episode on Wednesdays.
It is probably the least radical thing the BBC could have done other than simply doing nothing. But is it the right thing to safeguard the programme’s future?
The good news is that there will be consistency – clear scheduling, four days in a row. It also keeps faith with the show’s heritage by preserving the traditional Tuesday and Thursday slots.
But there is a very big risk. It will mean EastEnders will always be shown opposite Emmerdale. When the soaps clash EastEnders usually loses. Even with the iPlayer and BBC Three repeats there are real risks.
There will inevitably be some knock-on changes to the schedule – Panorama will need to move to a new slot. But from a political point of view, a radical shake up to the BBC One schedule in direct response to ITV’s changes was always unlikely. EastEnders is but one BBC programme.
With the BBC’s role under scrutiny, a major direct response to ITV’s changes could send out the wrong signals. As always the challenge for BBC One is to be both popular and distinctive. But no doubt fans and strategists alike will be watching the ratings closely come March.
It is no longer impossible to imagine BBC One without EastEnders and easy to imagine an eventual cut in the number of episodes if the ratings suffer badly. But remember judging the ratings now means judging catch-up viewing and repeats as well as the overnights. Live viewing is less important than it used to be.
But, of course, a soap on the BBC can only be justified if it plays a strategic role bringing viewers to the channel and bringing them to more demanding or innovative programmes.
Where will things be in a year or two?
PICTURED: EastEnders promotion. COPYRIGHT: BBC.