Not so long ago, television viewers were able to view just a handful of channels on any given evening, and for many people it was often the case that a show that was worth watching only came along every once in a while. There were plenty of excellent programmes to choose from, of course, but the chances are there were only one or two on any given night, and in the traditionally quiet summer period there may have been nothing much to write home about at all.
As the rise in popularity of satellite and cable TV continues, the number of channels that are available has increased dramatically, and it seems that even more materialise as every year goes by. In the UK and across Europe, the move towards greater choice has mirrored what happened in the United States several years ago, and with the added choice of Internet TV, dial-up and online archive channels and even mobile phone apps it would appear that we have an insatiable appetite for everything from obscure Italian movies to blockbuster sports events.
There is one problem, however, that many of the broadcasters have been worrying about for some time: the overload of channels often means only a handful of viewers could be watching at any one time. The natural end result of this is that advertisers are often difficult to find for the shows that are only likely to appeal to a small audience, and because advertising is what ultimately pays for the programmes this can lead to problems in the long run.
Broadcasters look to inhabit their schedules with a balance of new and old shows, and some of the minor channels rely on buying in old programmes from other companies. However, not every channel can afford to buy up seasons of Friends, Top Gear or Sex and the City. Therefore, they will show re-runs of less popular offerings such as Bargain Hunt, You’ve Been Framed and Blockbusters – all fine programmes in their own right, of course, but they’re unlikely to pull in many punters now.
Another potential issue is that having hundreds, or even thousands, of channels to choose from doesn’t necessarily mean the viewer will always be able to find a show that he or she wants to watch. This can have something of a demoralising impact on the public, because most people would accept this situation if there were only a few channels available, but it seems far worse when there are more.