Don’t club me over the head … it hurts

Posted on June 5, 2010


I’m a Doctor Who fan. I’m also a fan of the BBC. I’m an employee of the Corporation.

And I get annoyed. Quickly. And following that, I nearly always feel a bit embarrassed, certain that a significant proportion of the population feel the same way I do.

Here’s this weekends beef.

Doctor Who story ‘The Doctor and Vincent‘ has some cracking photography, some brilliant dialogue, sparkling delivery and a bit of a moral too.

Clearly the episode is meant for the grown ups more for the under-tens, even so I like the idea some of the more discerning under-tens might in a few years time go ‘yeah, I remember that episode, I learnt a lot from it’

Assuming they did, will they have felt the same way I did when yet again the lovely Red Bee Media continuity people spoke over the end credits with a special announcement. You know one of those ‘if you’ve been affected by this programme then call the BBC’s Action Line‘.

Personally, I felt this announcement was something akin to having my arm ripped from its socket before being beaten about the head with the soggy ends.

I am not being unfeeling. The subject of the Doctor Who story – Vincent van Gogh – suffered from depression. I suffered from depression during my early twenties. It was hideous. I know how hideous it can be. And I only had the light variety. I know there are plenty of other people who are considerably more worse off than I ever was. What I recall was those brief moments in time when I was able to escape from my own thoughts. You know, like watching a TV drama.

I knew full well that reality would eventually kick back into touch. But for those moments I was engaged I was escaping my own thoughts. It was like a holiday. What I wouldn’t have wanted was having the end of a piece of escapist drama signposted by a crass public service announcement reminding me that this particular story was all about me. Or could be, if I wanted to pick up the phone.

But that was fifteen years ago. Aside from moments of intense suspicion bordering on paranoia, I’m pretty much over my depression. My beef now is that I’ve been watching my favourite TV programme. My favourite TV programme written and produced brilliantly well. Now more than any time in the past I want to a) hear the closing music and b) watch the credits roll past. I don’t want to have the screen shrunk and I’m absolutely sick and tired of having someone talk over everything. The programme isn’t over until we’ve seen the executive producer’s credit at the earliest or the part of the BBC responsible for the output at the latest.

I refer here to the broadcasting equivalent of a basic level of respect.

Of course. I know what you’re thinking. That Action Line announcement is important. There are people who might do with knowing about the BBC’s public service offering. And I’d agree. I’d wholeheartedly agree. So much so, that I think that something as important as that kind of announcement shouldn’t be crammed into the final few seconds of the credits.

After all, if you can’t or don’t want to call, you could always visit the BBC”s Headroom site. It’s brilliantly designed. It was the produced by someone who had great vision and who is adorable too. Truly. I wouldn’t make this kind of thing up.

But seeing as the website is so good and the message so important, why not give yourself about 15 seconds after the final credits have rolled and you might possibly do a better job of selling the website (you know, with some graphics or whatever) than just an on-air announcement. The message might be delivered a little clearer. There’s time. There must be time. If time is at a premium on BBC HD, then why not start the schedules a little bit earlier?

For those who don’t know, these on-air announcements are referred to as call to actions (or CTAs). They’re important. They help marketeers understand to what extent people are remaining focused on the product after the main event is over. Which is why – possibly – there was even a request from the BBC asking newcomers to the Headroom website what they actually thought about the site they’d come to. That’s not the first time that’s happened either. It happened during the Eurovision last week. Only I didn’t mention it then. The Eurovision is such a dark time for me personally.

These kind of announcements – CTAs – have to be delivered carefully and sensitively. Not only sensitively for the audience so that they don’t feel patronised but sensitive to those who have produced the work being advertised.

Because if we’re all in a far more competitive world where audience feedback is important then the question “Would have some time to tell us what you think of this site?”  has darker overtones. It screams the message: “We need to find out whether this represents value for money. Can you help?” At least that’s the impression I get.

I know that opinion won’t have the mass appeal like the furore over Graham Norton’s cartoon visage appearing onscreen at the denouement in another Doctor Who episode. But still, it’s the impression I get .. as a consumer of the product.

And if I get that impression you can be sure as hell plenty of other licence-fee payers do too.

Posted in: Internet, TV