There’s a reason it’s good

Posted on March 15, 2010

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Sometimes it breaks my heart to watch Sky Arts HD 1. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve finished watching a programme broadcast on the satellite HD network, turned to my long suffering husband and moaned, “why the bloody hell can’t the BBC do something like that?”

I’ll confess I internally applauded the similar automatic response he muttered when we finished watching the Berlin Philharmonic deliver an electrifying performance of Brahms 1 from what looked like a disused factory in front of an appropriately attentive audience consisting of the great and the good of Germany. Free of the usual banter in between works and during the interval, the Berlin Phil’s gig was free of pointless chit chat leaving us the audience focussed squarely on what mattered: the music and the musicians.

The same thing happened this evening as we sat down in front of the TV, devouring spaghetti carbonara and watching Poems on the Underground (director Mike Sedgwick).

In the 2007 Atticus Finch production for Sky Arts, Tara Fitzgerald reads all sorts of different poems as she embarks on a sometimes weird looking journey across the tube network. Amid interesting visuals were talking heads from various individuals including one adorable American lady who proposed the ideas of poems in tube carriages and Kings Cross underground station’s writer in residence, employed to facilitate the 140 strong station staff in meeting their writing needs.

At 15 minutes long, the programme was efficient and engaging. It looked like a classy affair. Fitzgerald fizzled. The soundtrack compliemented some tasty looking visuals.

So the question again …

Why can’t the BBC do this?

On a practical level, it would be fair to say that there’s not very much which needs great financial outlay. A couple of digi-cams shooting in HD, encode with Final Cut Pro with a few days work spent on post-production. It’s not going to require days and days of work. Just someone who knows what they’re doing and someone who has an idea.

Maybe it could be an easy hit. Maybe – in time – I’ll stumble on something which compares well with this little TV gem.

But the biggest challenge any such BBC visual and aural treat will have to rise to is to do it on a considerably smaller budget.

You do the maths: We pay (I didn’t realise this until this evening when I asked long-suffering husband what the bill was) around £60 a month for Sky HD. That’s a package without the usual (boring) sports channels and it’s also … quite a lot of money. That’s around £720 a year. And we’re going to have to pay for a replacement Sky HD box too (the current one isn’t reliable, is a month out of warranty and will only be replaced for free if we get a reconditioned one from Sky) just over a year after we started subscribing.

It’s considerably more than what we’re paying out for the licence fee (£142). And comparing the two perhaps there’s a good reason Sky can afford to shell out for the cream of the crop in terms of arts production output.

There’s certainly quite a lot of arts on the Sky channels (there are two HD channels) which perhaps represents a return on our investment, although frankly I’m resenting having to pay for another Sky HD box so soon after getting the first one.

But where does that leave the BBC’s arts output. Should I be expecting more or less? Should I be less demanding or less critical ?

I’m conflicted.

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Posted in: TV