Both the main public service broadcasters are celebrating big birthdays. The BBC is marking its centenary just as Channel 4 turns 40.
There are certain parallels.
Both face a degree of uncertainty about their future and finding the right way to mark the occasions may not have been easy.
The BBC’s centenary had seemed an understated affair until now. A raft of special programmes over the past week have played to its core audience.
From Strictly to the Antiques Roadshow they have been a reminder of the ways the BBC is at the heart of mainstream popular culture.
The special episodes of Doctor Who and The Repair Shop were a reminder of the love some have for the BBC and complemented the celebrations of the centenary itself.
Getting the tone right can be hard. The BBC itself means different things to different people but has a collective strength as an organisation.
And just what should be celebrated? The BBC as it is today? Its rich heritage? Or its humble origins on Savoy Hill.
Actually the three are interlinked. The basic values of the organisation go all the way back to 1922 and its early years.
All its major services have a rich heritage to tap into but any organisation which stays still or lives off its past becomes a museum piece eventually.
It’s been interesting to see the use of a common ident for the anniversary across different channels. Again this suggests each service is part of something bigger.
Over at Channel 4, the celebrations have seemed more muted.
A revival of Friday Night Live was a reminder of one part of its special personality. No doubt Countdown will be marking its own 40th in style. (There will be a little 40th birthday surprise for Pres fans before Countdown on Wednesday.)
Channel 4 has commissioned a range of edgy programmes as part of a 40th anniversary season which are not about Channel 4 or the anniversary itself.
This is actually in keeping with the channel’s early personality – offering, for example, Christmas programmes which contrasted with the explicitly festive offerings elsewhere.
But then again today’s Channel 4 is not the channel of the 80s and 90s even if it’s more distinctive parts speak to its roots.
Part of the channel’s core audience today might regard a 40-year-old as over-the-hill.
Another part of the public knows all too well that so many of the serious, challenging programmes and minority interests which also ran through its DNA are now seen less frequently.
Will there be any revival of the original idents? Well frankly reviving the blocks has less of an impact now as it has happened so often.
More seriously both organisations face uncertain futures.
Some opponents of privatisation had hoped that the plan would be shelved under Liz Truss. However during the summer leadership contest Rishi Sunak actively supported it. Watch this space.
As for the BBC, its celebrations are a reminder that its core audience might be prepared to fight for it. Any big decisions won’t come this side of the next General Election.
But anyone thinking radical thoughts might be advised to look at the audience response to some of the celebratory programmes.
PICTURED: BBC 100 and Channel 4 logos. COPYRIGHT: BBC and Channel 4 Television Corporation.
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