Television Across the Pond – by Madison Stapels

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There’s incoming news stories 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Every news outlet has its own beliefs, placing their own spins on stories, and these beliefs also determine which stories get the most attention. More often than not the bad and the ugly rather than the good overrun the news. In America there are tons of news stations, all run by their own companies, commercially funded, and using virtually the same stories in a given regional area. On the other hand, in Scotland and the rest of the UK, the major news provider for television is the BBC. What distinguishes the BBC from any other news outlet in the United States is that it is publicly funded, and provides three of the news stations in Scotland.

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American television is based purely on ratings. Shows with higher ratings stay on for more and more seasons and gain a fan base. With this fan base comes more funding from advertisers who want to advertise their products during their shows. The more people that are viewing a program, the larger target audience a certain advertiser can reach, and they will pay big money to be able to accomplish this. In the UK, there are five television providers, two of them being the major players: ITV and BBC. The BBC, like I said earlier is a publicly funded broadcast company, meaning all of their funds come from the licensing fee that anyone who is able to receive BBC programming has to pay ITV is the independent television company that is commercially funded like American television. However, the commercials are completely different.

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In the United States, commercial breaks are too frequent for anyone’s liking, but the majority of the commercials are short, lasting around 30 seconds. The commercials grab your attention and pull you in, tell you their key messages and their selling point, and then they’re done. In contrast, commercial breaks on ITV are farther apart, but I think they last longer and the commercials seem to be longer than the typical 30-second ad we have in the U.S.  Their advertisements grab your attention, but they are slower moving in telling the audience their key messages and selling points.

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For example, in Sainsbury’s Christmas advertisement for last Christmas, the whole a tells a story rather than Meijer’s Christmas commercial from last year where in the first 50 seconds had said what they stand for as well as say or show the company name eight times. Meijer explicitly said they are a family company who wants to spread joy to the families that shop there. Their goal with this campaign was to make the public aware of their mission for the holidays was to give back and to bring joy to their shoppers during this time. They show the store as a great destination for Christmas shopping, and advertise their items as ones your family members will want. Though the entire ad is four minutes long, the main message points and selling points are within the first 60-seconds.

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In contrast with this, the Sainsbury ad doesn’t ad in its key messaging until the very end of the commercial. Their ad instead tells a story rather than being a public relations tool to show how they are giving back to the community and their customers like Meijer’s did. Sainsbury’s Christmas commercial is like a short film, there is a whole plot to the ad that most definitely draws emotion from the viewers. The ad starts out in 1914, during World War I. Both sides on Christmas morning stop fighting and meet each other in the middle to have fun and enjoy the holiday spirit as well as partaking in giving others small gifts. The ad then ends by the fighting picking back up as both sides go back to their respective trenches. However, one soldier from each side smiles as they pull out their gifts of chocolate from each other. Sainsbury’s wants to put out the message that the small things you can buy at their store can bring together so many people and bring joy during the holiday season. The only message they wanted to share was that Christmas is for sharing, rather than to promote their store’s agenda and to promote themselves in a favorable way. However, despite their efforts to put the emphasis on sharing, and not promoting themselves, they most definitely create good feelings and memories towards their stores.

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The way Scotland and the UK advertise versus the way the America advertises I think leads to the major differences in television broadcasting. The most popular shows in the UK are Sherlock, Doctor Who, Coronation Street, and Downton Abbey. These shows are all great, a few of them even becoming international hits. However, something distinguishes them greatly from some of the most popular American television shows. Some of the top American television shows are Friends, Breaking Bad, Big Bang Theory, The Walking Dead, and House of Cards. With the exception of House of Cards and Breaking Bad, these shows focus more on less serious and more entertaining television. The top shows in the UK involve a lot of history, but still are some of the most entertaining shows, as well as being the most popular.

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From visiting both ITV and the BBC on our trip so far, I have noticed a huge focus on documentaries and their dramas for their television programming. They pride themselves on creating quality television that is not completely reality show based. Although both have reality shows, and those shows do extremely well, they are more known for their historical dramas and great documentaries than anything else. The same cannot necessarily be said for American television where Keeping Up With The Kardashians is one of the most talked about shows that America is notorious for.

Looking forward to the future of American television, I think more focus should be put on creating quality television programs rather than the brain-cell killing reality shows. Although I do enjoy a good reality show every now and then, having more period-piece dramas, more televised documentaries and the like would be a step in the right direction for not only creating better TV, but to also keep the television industry alive.

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