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Beyond Ratings or Quality. Surpassing the Dilemma of Entertainment in Public Broadcasting
Unformatted Document Text:  6 The increased competition for viewers has caused program makers and policy makers in public broadcasting to adopt a conceptual framework we identify as the marketing vocabulary. ‘Recently Bradaz turned a bit more commercial’, one of the participants in the production of the first Dutch black comedy noted. She did not mean to suggest that there were more or longer commercial breaks, non-spot commercials, or other advertiser-friendly interventions, but that the production appealed to a wider audience. In this vocabulary the public is seen as a group of people to whom you want to ‘sell’ something. Indeed, the word ‘commercial’ has a broad meaning. It may denote a more ‘accessible’ or ‘lighthearted’ content or format, or simply refer to more ‘crude’ or ‘shallow’ entertainment. Obviously, the latter rarely has a positive ring. When makers of public television claim ‘that they want to cater more to consumers’, they consider their program a success if it reaches a large audience (large market share and high ratings). Critics of this trend warn that if program makers have to gear their ‘product’ to the audience inordinately, qualitative values are sacrificed at the expense of quantitative values. Gearing a program to the ‘assumed taste and the assumed attention span’ of the average viewer would result ‘in programs that have an excess of redundancy, few surprises, and even less originality – in programs of maximal shallowness that are as much as possible cut off from the individual personality of the maker’ (Van der Hoek, 1991:140). In the artist vocabulary that is used here, the maker comes first as the standard of quality. From this angle, audience-orientedness only leads to a leveling-off of quality. An explanation for this ambivalence regarding the audience lies in the automatic association of an audience-oriented approach with a market-oriented approach . As a member of the Dutch Board of Governors claimed : It is natural for commercial broadcasting to try and find out as much as possible what at any moment of the day the majority of the audience would like to watch, and to cater to that need. The function of public broadcasting is that you also expose viewers to things they are not necessarily waiting for, that you surprise them with things they have not seen before, and that you develop their taste. From policy documents and from our interviews we gather the dominant view that ratings and quality do not mix. The intrinsic tension between aiming for viewer ratings and aiming for quality locks up program makers and managers in public broadcasting inside a dilemma. They either think of themselves as catering to the demand and preferences of the audience, which implies that they give in to commercial values, or they see themselves as pursuers of good programming in

Authors: Meijer, Irene.
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6
The increased competition for viewers has caused program makers and policy
makers in public broadcasting to adopt a conceptual framework we identify as the
marketing vocabulary.
‘Recently
Bradaz turned a bit more commercial’, one of the
participants in the production of the first Dutch black comedy noted. She did not
mean to suggest that there were more or longer commercial breaks, non-spot
commercials, or other advertiser-friendly interventions, but that the production
appealed to a wider audience. In this vocabulary the public is seen as a group of
people to whom you want to ‘sell’ something. Indeed, the word ‘commercial’ has a
broad meaning. It may denote a more ‘accessible’ or ‘lighthearted’ content or format,
or simply refer to more ‘crude’ or ‘shallow’ entertainment. Obviously, the latter rarely
has a positive ring. When makers of public television claim ‘that they want to cater
more to consumers’, they consider their program a success if it reaches a large
audience (large market share and high ratings).
Critics of this trend warn that if program makers have to gear their ‘product’ to
the audience inordinately, qualitative values are sacrificed at the expense of
quantitative values. Gearing a program to the ‘assumed taste and the assumed
attention span’ of the average viewer would result ‘in programs that have an excess
of redundancy, few surprises, and even less originality – in programs of maximal
shallowness that are as much as possible cut off from the individual personality of the
maker’ (Van der Hoek, 1991:140). In the artist vocabulary that is used here, the
maker comes first as the standard of quality. From this angle, audience-orientedness
only leads to a leveling-off of quality.
An explanation for this ambivalence regarding the audience lies in the
automatic association of an audience-oriented approach with a market-oriented
approach
.
As a member of the Dutch Board of Governors claimed
:
It is natural for commercial broadcasting to try and find out as much
as possible what at any moment of the day the majority of the
audience would like to watch, and to cater to that need. The function
of public broadcasting is that you also expose viewers to things they
are not necessarily waiting for, that you surprise them with things
they have not seen before, and that you develop their taste.
From policy documents and from our interviews we gather the dominant view
that ratings and quality do not mix. The intrinsic tension between aiming for viewer
ratings and aiming for quality locks up program makers and managers in public
broadcasting inside a dilemma. They either think of themselves as catering to the
demand and preferences of the audience, which implies that they give in to
commercial values, or they see themselves as pursuers of good programming in


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