ME, TV AND DIVERSITY.
I’ve been working in TV and wider digital media for over two decades now. There was a time when mainstream TV gatekeepers at the big channels didn’t bat an eyelid at our cries of lack of diversity or youth programing. But how things have changed in recent years.
JASMINE WITH TV’S NEWEST STAR – CHANNEL 4’S BIG NARSTIE!
In the past when TV showed black, asian or young people in compromising, lazy stereotypical roles, we would feel humiliated and quietly bitch to our closed groups, but that would be the end of it. Shout out Mind Your Language, every Eastenders baby mama drama, every corner shop run by Mr Patel in English soap operas, Goodness Gracious Me – (we don’t all speak like that).
Then social media happened and cultural tribal movements started boding like the matrix and calling the culprits out. Those previously unheard voices and small groups formed global movements and started viral #hashtags and gained voices like never before, and now all companies are terrified of being the next awkward twitter hashtag. Remember #britssowhite, #oscarssowhite, Kendall Jenner’s white savior complex with Pepsi? Nivea’s ad for ‘visibly fairer skin’? You get my point. Social media will rip you a new one if your unconscious bias comes to the forefront. Similarly if your TV content makes us side-eye, you will also get it in the neck.
According to the TV regulator OFCOM, streaming services in Britain now have more subscribers than pay-TV and satellite operators like SKY, Virgin media and BT. That’s mega worrying for TV broadcasters.
The battle for subscriptions in the music industry is nothing compared to the frantic broadcast industry, where viewer ratings have been hemorrhaging for the past few years, and TV commissioners are frantically grabbing whatever they can to bring eyeballs back to their channels.
Could there come a day when mainstream TV as we know it ceases to exist? I doubt it. However famous and rich celebrity online influencers get, the ultimate dream for many seems to be the lure of an actual TV show.
Hilariously those same broadcasters that have shunned diversity in the past as merely a tix box exercise that they need to be paying lip service to, nowadays, are snapping up diverse talent in a frantic race to the top like there’s no tomorrow, but often don’t know how to harness their talents already existent fan bases.
With Netflix, YouTube and more taking bite-sized chunks out of the TV broadcasters cake, things have never been so frantic in media circles to get viewers back. Particularly young viewers. After all most BBC viewers are over 45years of age and at some point will die out. TV needs young and diverse audiences back. But have they left it so long that the horse bolted and is never returning?
ALL THE PLAYERS
It’s hard for broadcasters to compete with platforms like Netflix, who will this coming year spend 13billion on new shows.
Unlike most traditional, TV fat cats who decided when they wanted viewers to watch and for how long, Netflix just decided to make the whole viewing experience better for people. You don’t like to sit through ads and titles? No problem, we’ll get rid of them. You fall asleep in the midst of an episode and don’t want to have to restart the whole thing to find your spot? No problem, we will resume play where you switched off. You like a certain type of content? Comedy? Black rom-coms? Period Drama? Documentary exposes? Ok, got it. We will see what you play most and suggest similar content. God! it wasn’t rocket science but it took Netflix to give us what we want, when we want, how we want., anytime, any place, anywhere, just like the old eighties Martini ads, to make TV bosses sit up and worry about their kids private education and mini mansions.
On demand services like Amazon and Netflix have made viewers migrate in droves. People don’t want ad breaks, but commercial channels like ITV depend on commercial revenue so it’s an on-going battle.
Netflix is unapologetically giving audiences what they want and we just can’t get enough. They are solely responsible for my 3am-7am sleep hours but I’m hooked. With Netflix I am watching and have access to the same content as 130million other global subscribers. This is what we want – the world to feel more connected. The love the ability to have global conversations and banter online together about content that we’ve all watched simultaneously. The Crown, Orange is the new Black, Power, Suits and more – they’ve got viewers globally excitedly exchanging opinions. Do you remember when not one black comedian could get a solo slot on national TV? Now they’re all on Netflix!
Do you remember the days when TV companies would roll out a series in America or the UK first before giving worldwide rights? Seems archaic in retrospect.
Whether it’s an American drama series, rom-com movies or black standup comedy, I can watch what I want, when I want it. It’s very rare that I go back to terrestrial TV. I return to terrestrial TV for news programmes, opinion and breaking news.
By taking risks, some big TV broadcasters like Channel 4, ITV2 and SKY are taking drastic action to try and stay competitive with Netflix and their ilk and reaping rewards via ratings, as well as respectability and credibility with viewers.
This year SKY got mass credibility from both the young and BAME audience recently with their Bulletproof Series featuring black male actors Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters in leading roles as policemen. Even more incredibly, they showed Ashley’s character in a strong black positive family dynamic. Something that is unheard of in British TV. Noel did have to fight for that, but that’s another debate altogether. SKY were rewarded with huge ratings. Sky Atlantic also brought in content like Insecure from the USA keeping those of us that love this content on TV channels for a moment.
Then a few short weeks later all their credibility with the same audience died, as a reporter gained access to the notorious Woolwich Boys Gang for SKY NEWS and all the boys interviewed onscreen were shown wearing monkey masks. Yes you read that correctly. Young black men wearing monkey masks. Sky’s defense was that the boys had bought them and wanted to wear them, but the fact remains that producers and their talent need to be woke enough and responsible to see how this would look, make audiences feel and feed into age old, deep-seated racist stereotypes where young black men can only be seen as monkeys.
THE LOSERS – WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE /strong>
Similarly, Channel 5 seem to have taken the mantle and flying the flag for doom & gloom content that makes us all angry, fearful and miserable. Show after show about bailiffs, crime, gangs, working class woes is their lane and they’re sticking to it. The Daily Mail of the TV world. Programming and media need to be more respectful and responsible when making content about and for diverse audiences.
Channel 4, E4, ITV2 and Netflix keep challenging the status quo and taking risks. They’re unapologetic about provocative content and give their creators freedom of expression, and don’t try and fit the talent into a mold like the BBC always do.
I work with a lot of young people, young digital influencers and celebrities all year round. The key players that young people are buzzing about are Netflix, ITV2, Channel 4, E4 and SKY, who are commissioning risky, provocative, unique content and taking fun risks, transparently and un-apologetically.
There’s no question that ITV2 have hands down have killed it. During Love Island the show was trending worldwide on twitter for hours. Young people and celebrities were rushing home to watch it live – not on catch – up in their own time – but dictated by the TV bosses. It’s unheard of in this day and age. Usually 3milion views per night speeding home to catch this in real time so as not to be behind on pop culture! ITV2 capitalized on the #FOMO anxiety of youth. This appointment to view is not what kids do; this is what their parents do. The reason kids want to watch it live is because with social media there are spoilers all through the show, and no one wants to be last to comment on the Love Island shenanigans online – proof that if TV companies get the right teams in, millennials will come back to watch TV the traditional way.
ITV2 unapologetically spoke to young people in a language they understand- their own! They have music and games and tasks that are truly just for this demographic, and the hype of excitement pulls in others intrigued by the hype.
Similarly, E4 have great diverse, urban and youth content with shows like Black-ish that has content that we as a global audience discuss and debate daily, but I’m more impressed by its umbrella ship Channel 4 for experimenting with home-grown British talent.
I’ve loved the recent spate of opinion challenging influencers making their own Channel 4 docs on subjects as wide as transgender debate with Munroe Bergdorf, colonial debates with Afua Hirsch and even though I am WAY outside the target demographic- The Big Narstie Show.
For so long, when anyone Black or Asian would be granted the honour of their own mainstream TV show, they would never be given the budget of an Ant & Dec type show. Their content would always be diluted and made more acceptable to their majority audience, thus draining talent of all their lovable qualities that built them their original fan base in the first place. Case in point, Javone Prince on E4’’s phone shop – just brilliant. By the time the BBC got their ‘lets make him fit our regional demographic’ hands on him – awful!
With The Big Narstie Show, Channel 4 has granted mass resource, live studio audience, multiple cameras, pre-shot sketches, music segments and huge guest names.
So it’s no surprise then that The Big Narstie Show is reaching a wider audience than Channel 4 typically does on Fridays from 11pm; the first three episodes more than doubled the slot average for young audiences aged 16 – 24 (+71%). The series is also appealing to diverse audiences; the same three shows attracted more than three times Channel 4’s average share of BAME viewers and three times the average share of black viewers.
The Big Narstie show was risky. Some parts worked, others were weaker, but it’s refreshing to see that Channel 4 is bold and unafraid to take risks with talent. I attended one live recording and couldn’t believe my eyes at the hundreds of young, inner city, trendy BAME kids queuing for hours outside, to get in to be a part of the TV audience.
The talent lineup has been the likes of which we’ve never seen juxtaposed together before too. Usually commissioners and producers think “it’s a young, black show so it’s all young and black talent with no cross over with the mainstream.
The show recording I attended, had from the legendary Channel 4 series Friends’ – David Schwimmer – who played Ross, sitting on a very cramped sofa between the UK’s biggest hip hop star – south Londoner Giggs – and music star Birmingham’s Lady Leshurr, Greek actor Jamie Demetriou and Big Narsties co-host Mo the Comedian.
There it was. True diversity in every sense. Hollywood meets London’s hood. California dreaming next to Peckham streets, Birmingham accents, music, movies, bizarre banter and do you know what, whilst we were all initially perplexed at how this was going to work, it did!
I started watching the live record in awe as David Schwimer sat there being schooled on how to speak UK street slang thinking ‘’There’s a Hollywood agent in the backstage dressing room right now freakin the f out!’’. Bless David – the only white person on the whole show – for gamely smiling through every UK reference he didn’t understand, talking about how he nearly died twice on plane journeys and his past jobs, whilst Giggs talked about youth violence and encouraged the mainstream media not to demonize his community. I also smiled when I saw David Schwimmer demand the crew get Giggs a tissue to wipe the sweat after his music set. Surreal but brilliant. By the end of the show, I was inspired by the show producers ingenious audacity.
This whole series has had hip-hop kids alongside Hollywood stars – how empowering! British chat show legends like Jonathan Ross and Canadian/Irish comedian Katherine Ryan with YouTube star KSI (One of the biggest YouTube stars on the planet and finally on mainstream telly) and music star Stef London! What could be stronger for cross-pollination and fertilization for today’s young Britain? Watching the brilliant Jonathan Ross and Katherine Ryan, and Love island voiceover narrator Ian Sterling rapping was magic. All of them free-styling with Big Narstie and Mo was absolute perfect TV and showed it’s not just inner city kids that love Hip Hop culture. No other chat show on TV has ever felt like this and it’s representative of the UK pop culture in 2018.
Yes, Big Narstie needs some media training – he never let’s anyone finish their sentences. But it worked in an awkward car crash way. Who would’ve ever put David Schwimmer and Giggs on the same sofa next to each other? Of course it would be Channel 4 – they’ve been unapologetically pushing boundaries and making provocative TV, since before I was a host on their nineties legendary TV youth culture series The Word.
In the 90’s every week the public and media would be talking and outraged about The Word. The Big Narstie show has the same contentious vibe. Parents won’t approve. They’re not meant to. Football may not have come home to British TV but young people are. TV bosses wrung their hands in angst and said the kids had left…they hadn’t. They just need the right content and some balls.