Last year ITV took swift action following the death of a contributor on The Jeremy Kyle Show. They quickly concluded that the programme could have tarnished both the channel and the company’s reputation.
Similarly individual programmes of particular quality or popularity can positively enhance a whole channel’s brand. BBC One just now is benefiting from the sustained rise in audiences to the main network and regional news programmes. The One Show has also seen a rise in ratings.
All this means the channel’s overall ratings are up despite the fact there are fewer new programmes than usual and one very prominent omission – EastEnders is down to two episodes a week and could come off air completely if production is unable to resume soon. So is BBC One without EastEnders unimaginable?
Well think back to 1985? The launch of the new globe coincided with the launch of Wogan and EastEnders. The BBC organised a publicity blitz around EastEnders, some of which was quite unusual for the corporation at the time. Unusually trails ran several weeks before the first episode but the off-air marketing was atypical too.
The BBC consciously wanted EastEnders to attract people who were more likely to watch ITV. The programme attracted coverage (positive and negative) in the tabloids.
Original producer Julia Smith even asked Radio Times to produce coverage more akin to TV Times which meant some articles about the programme seemed a little bit out of place in the magazine. Did this all inadvertently contribute to a perception, however misplaced, that BBC One was going downmarket?
Michael Grade was keen to get the ratings up but without sacrificing quality. He looked towards retiring turkeys and better scheduling. Even the row over Panorama‘s rescheduling quickly subsided once ratings improved. The marketing for EastEnders worked and after a few months it was gaining huge ratings. It underwrote other parts of the BBC One schedule.
It was a quality programme but did the marketing make it seem downmarket rather than popular? Did it contribute to a myth that the BBC was becoming just like ITV? Did the COW globe – arguably the BBC’s classiest ident ever – become associated in some eyes with a rush to the bottom?
Now EastEnders is being rationed and there is a real chance it will briefly disappear. Naturally this will disappoint some but – in the short term at least – it will do little overall damage.
It is not BBC One’s top-rated programme and marketing can push the BBC’s big role in this crisis. Initially it would simply mean the loss of one popular programme and the disappointment this will bring. The strategic question might concern those who watch no other regular BBC shows.
ITV on the other hand is genuinely unthinkable without Emmerdale and Coronation Street – two shows cherished by the company and of huge commercial importance.
Should they disappear, ITV will genuinely seem very different for a few weeks.
But if any soaps should go, expect marketing blitzes when they return. Perhaps the 1985 blitz will be just a foretaste of “EastEnders: The Return”?
PICTURED: EastEnders titles. SUPPLIED BY: Online/BBC iPlayer. COPYRIGHT: BBC.