Gavan Reilly

thinking out loud

Archive for the ‘television’ tag

Dragons’ Den and Ireland’s media adolescence

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Again, I have to preface this post with an apology for not keeping this up over the last while – it’s been eleven days since the last post, and it’s mad that during Irish Blog Week of all weeks, I haven’t been able to get one together. Academia, as you can always guess when internet silence is involved, has been horrific, and will continue to be for the next fortnight, so if I stay silent then my advance apologies.

Anyhoo – I didn’t get to see it last night, having instead brought The Brother to see the Kaiser Chiefs last night (his first gig! Awww!), but last night the world was given the first episodes of RTE’s new series, Dragons’ Den. Now, as outlined, I’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, and so I haven’t really been able to gauge public reaction to how the show was received. Nonetheless, it’s one of those occasions we don’t get very often in Ireland: the local premiere of an internationally-sourced franchise. First it was Popstars, and later Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, swiftly followed by a retaliatory Weakest Link. If  memory serves, we were deprived of international formatting until The Apprentice. As if to fulfil scripture, RTE rebound with Dragons’ Den and we quickly get back to wondering when the whole process gets to repeat itself again.

It’s difficult not to accept that one of the driving forces of the increasing homogenisation of the Anglophone world – and beyond, come to think of it – is the cult of superstar TV shows. I don’t mean the Ant & Decs, or the Ryan Seacrest, of the world: I mean the Big Brothers, the Deal or No Deals, and the Pop/American Idols. These are the new Coca-Colas and Microsofts: they are the archetypal global brands of the 21st Century that hold us ransom to their incessant, ominous advertising. They’re nowhere and yet everywhere.

Everywhere except Ireland.

For those of us – and increasingly, in line with the homogenisation, there are more of us – who hold a penchant for international TV, Ireland is a total drought. There are those of us who adore Big Brother, or Pop Idol, or The X-Factor, or Deal or No Deal, but yet wish that Ireland was big and brazen enough not to just be happy it was there, Across The Water. And it is, whether you’ve noticed or not: Ireland’s media still seems to be in adolescence. While Gay Byrne showing the country what a condom looked like was an explosion into the first realms of puberty, and Annie Murphy’s revelation was the gentle coax into sexual activity, Ireland hasn’t really gotten very much farther in its media evolution. The entry of commercial broadcasters is moving to another school; The Dunphy Show vs The Late Late Show is the aggro at the school disco; but Ireland’s media – and certainly its TV – hasn’t grown up yet. We’re happy to let Them Across The Water come up with the money to run Deal or No Deal, or the record deal and bombast to run The X Factor, or to build a bungalow and chuck some cameras into it to run Big Brother. But make them for ourselves? Wisha, poor child, pipe down and do your homework.

There’s no point fooling ourselves. Ireland has only ever imported successful foreign formulas (in the literal sense – we can set up a poxy plagiarism until the cows come home) when there’s money or a threat. Popstars came because Louis Walsh put up the money to run the thing, and some sponsors jumped in to fill the ad breaks. Eircell (God! Remember them? Back when mobile phone numbers starterd with 088 and had six digits?) stuck up the money for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and lo, TV3 needed to stump up for The Weakest Link to keep up with the publically-funded Joneses. Once Eircell begat Vodafone Ireland, who decided that overpriced 13c text messages didn’t need to fund a TV show, WWTBAM disappeared. TV3 didn’t bother commissioning a second series of The Weakest Link either. Funny that. It’s the same thing now: TV3 scored a hit with The Apprentice so within a month of its premiere, RTE scramble to score its opposite number and BBC Two twin. Watch and see how much longer one series lasts without the other. I’ll lay odds on anything more than six months.

What is it that stops RTE or TV3 (though in going for The Apprentice, at least the latter has at least some foresight and maturity) from taking a chance and pouncing on an international hit? Is it the inevitable mumbling from the licence-payer wondering why their money has to fund the launchpad for the next Alexandra Burke? What else can it be? Nobody expects Belgium to make do with the French version of Big Brother, Loft Story – Belgium gets its own BB and gets on with it.

So why shouldn’t a country with enough character and brashness to produce a thousand songwriters and a million poets, a thousand accents and a million moments, be able to get up off its feet, grow up and do big media projects for itself?

I’ll make the offer to Irish TV companies now – secure the rights to Deal or No Deal and I’ll present it for free. Any takers?

Written by Gav

February 20th, 2009 at 7:07 pm

On Technology

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There’s something magical about the internet that sets it apart from other media – that no matter where one might be using it, or what the circumstances of the user, the internet always looks the same. Going to in Ireland or California (hi Cat!) or Munich is no different*. The page, content, feel, navigability of a site is perfectly uniform for everyone, everywhere in the world – and to me, that’s a far more special attribute than the universality of TV or radio. In fact, I’d predict that once the world develops sufficiently to the point that everyone has access to a phone line, and once laptops become cheap enough for them to be bought on a wholescale international basis, we’ll see an enormous schism in media as we know it.

Just a brief thought to bear in mind. Next time you’re watching an international spoting event, or perhaps Obama’s Inauguration next Tuesday, have a think about the incredible ability of human kind to manufacture systems where a single microphone placed at a human mouth, and a single camera pointed at a human face, can be manipulated, formatted, resolved, condensed and transmitted, and broadcast to someone on the other side of the world with a portable television, with such speed as to make the whole process seem instantaneous. This is the miracle of human endeavour: the fact that Obama will speak into one microphone, or twenty-two footballers will take to a single patch of grass, and have that activity transmitted worldwide (I mean literally worldwide; I don’t mean this word lightly, or in a figurative sense) at the speed of light and at the blink of an eye, is a product of extraordinary human agility and magnificence – not to mention that we have the ability to send ourselves to the moon and back, and the fact that broadcasting as we know it existed long before the advent of broadband made global communication so much easier.

It is this, above all else, that sets human beings apart from their companions on planet earth. The desire of the human to innovate and create, for entertainment or therapy, for fun or medicine – now that‘s something worth celebrating. We may have made drastic changes to this world, or even wrecked it: but in doing so, we have done some marvellous, awesome things.

* Unless you’re using Internet Explorer, in which case the stylesheet doesn’t load as properly as it should. I’ll get to fixing that though, I promise.

Written by Gav

January 13th, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Posted in Technology

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Overload, or How Media Is A Drug That Kills Us

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Bored on the internet earlier I started going through some StumbleUpon links and came across the very useful The site purports to be a kind of warm-up for writers, working the user into an eloquent mood: concentrate and write one word of text. Then write two, then five, ten, twenty, fifty. Very quickly one finds the ability to flesh out an individual thought to the point of being able to write a few hundred words – and being quite articulate in doing so. Great work, and one I’ll be often returning to.

Anyway, the site asked me for a single word. I looked around. Television. OK. Now, two words. Sky News.

The reason I’d been on StumbleUpon in the first place was because the TV was boring me. So, ten words: the endlessly repetitive assault of Sky News on my senses. And suddenly, just like that, we have a blog post on our hands.

I wonder if John Logie Baird could see us now; the role that TV has assumed as the prime shaper of first world society, influencing our politics, our humour, our tastes, our wallets. What would Baird have seen as the application of his televisor? Would it be to share events of major national or international importance? Would it be in reserve for governmental broadcast in times of national emergency, as his homeland would too regularly see in the coming decades?

It was in my Sky News-induced monotony that I realised something quite odd. Even in my humble student abode, we have NTL telly with more than a hundred channels, and high-speed wireless internet… and yet, there I was, going “Blah blah, recession, bad news, blah blah”, and reaching for a Bop-It for amusement. Whatever about the intended use of television when it started back between the two World Wars, it’s changed us – frankly we’re too numb now.

When I was only a few years old and my grandfather came back from work (as a postman, so at about 3.30pm) with a copy of that day’s The Star, I’d be thrilled at the ability to read through another two dozen pages of soccer news once homework was done. Now I don’t even have one, but three 24-hour sports news channels… and I have little compulsion to watch any of them, even though my liking for soccer hasn’t waned in the slightest since then.

But there’s too much stuff these days – there is simply too much media choice. James Joyce could write a novel. Granted, he may have needed to send it to a few different publishers before one would take it, but ultimately his work was seen as being of supreme quality and pivotal brilliance – and the work was afforded the respect it deserved as a result. (The example isn’t meant to be specific, by the way – replace Joyce’s name with any.) Now, though, if someone writes a novel, they send it in and it still lands in a slush pile of reading, competing with too many other works to get the attention it might merit. If it gets turned down, it might be sold as an ebook, or created as a blog with new extracts every day – where it has to compete with even more work for the attention of people who ordinarily have too many TV channels to amuse themselves with other matters anyway.

We have mp3 collections, hundreds of TV stations, millions of online videos and radio stations, digital TV, more books than we ever had before … and we’re bored, disaffected, disinterested. Would life have been different if we hadn’t had John Logie Baird around? Would we have nearly as much media as we now do? What would become of the twenty first century if paradox-free time travel could eliminate him and his creation from history? Would we be as bored, as violent, as liberal, as overweight, as educated, as worldly, as well-informed?

Is a short attention span the price we have to pay for circumstantial intelligence? I’d think about trying to answer that, but Dragons’ Den just came on, and I’m too distracted to think about anything else for the moment.

Written by Gav

January 6th, 2009 at 2:00 pm