Why do we always use the word “challenges” instead of “problems”? A challenge is something you have to deal with, in no real state of urgency. A problem is a great big brick wall that has to be climbed or demolished now. Whenever I hear, “This is one of the industry’s challenges,” I know they have no intention of dealing with it.
In TV you have to deliver. The content is scheduled, the audience is waiting; it has to be ready for transmission, and it has to be good. There are no challenges here – only problems.
It’s not that difficult to predict the mood of the audience in the next six months, but it is a problem when it comes to predicting mood a year ahead. Most programmes take a year to get on the air.
We have a looming economic depression ahead of us. We all know what happened to TV programming in previous depressions, and it’s fairly easy to predict that there will be a demand for more sentimentality, outlandish game and reality shows and, of course, fantasy. After all, the most successful re-runs in the USA post-9/11, were “Touched by an Angel” and “Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman”. Why? They are both about miracles. So how do we analyse the audience mood in a year’s time, and satisfy their emotional needs?
People are driven simultaneously by the hope that nice things will happen and fear that bad things will come about.
As a result, they watch TV to try and make sense of the world, and to glean from stories some strategies that may help them to deal with fearful change in the future. Pretty elementary media psychology stuff.
Given that the economy will be at rock bottom towards the end of 2009, instant gratification will be a thing of the past for many. If they want luxury goods, they will have to save up for them. Credit card repayments will have first call on the budget.
Then, people will argue: “The economy is shot. It’s not my fault. In fact, I don’t even think it’s South Africa’s fault.” They will be looking for someone to blame. Stories they identify with, will be those that confirm their suspicions, such as good conspiracy stuff, and stories where the rich, evil guys get what’s coming to them.
Hypochondria will flourish. Talk shows like “3Talk with Noeleen” will be in increasing demand, as long as it concentrates on the devastating effects on the body and psyche of not having enough money. The broadcasters will love these shows too: they’re cheap to make.
As for strategies that help you deal with change, the only change you can hope for is either some utopia you have always dreamed of, or the return of the good old days.
This lays the field wide open for our own “Touched by an Angel” or “Dr Quinn: Medicine Woman”. Could they be, “Gesoen deur Engela” and “Gugu: Sangoma”?
Nostalgia will thrive – it doesn’t matter which “good old days”, as long as they were the prosperous ones. There will be a decline in home décor, unless it’s real budget stuff.
So how does this fit in with what is forecast around the world? A brief check of Europe, the UK, US and Australia shows a plethora of top models and relationship game shows, but remember, these are only the preview releases for the 2009 first quarter. I can’t fi nd anyone forecasting what is coming up after that, but with adspend down 10 percent, you can bet it will be cheap, low-risk, and pandering to excessive hopes and fears.
Howard Thomas has been working in entertainment and media for 40 years. His experience with television dates back to the beginning in South Africa. He is a media business consultant, trainer and specialist in audience psychology.
- This column first appeared in The Media magazine (February 2009).