Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Getting used to a small portions world

According to the Guardian, "Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle started poorly with just one million viewers" the other night. By whose lights is that "poor"? Considering that he's not a household name and there had been no big press campaign, I think the fact that a million people watched him indicates that inertia remains the greatest force in determining the size of a TV audience. It's simple mathematical fact that as media options increase, the number of people choosing any one option must become smaller all the time. TV has more trouble than most coming to terms with this because it still feels somehow entitled to command our attention.

One of the most interesting representatives of the modest tendency in entertainment is Moby who many years ago said that in the future there would be less millionaire rock stars. He's posted (via the Lefsetz letter) about his new album. "I like the idea of humble and reasonable metrics for determining the success of a record," he says and admits, "for even one person to make the effort to listen to music that I’ve made is pretty remarkable, and I need to be humble and respectful in the face of that." I'm sure his record company aren't keen on him saying that but it's true.


  1. When I were a lad, Blue Peter regularly got over 8 million viewers. Now it's in five figures; over the years it's lost 99% of its audience.

    In that context, a million for a brand-new show sounds like a competition-slaying success to me.

  2. I'm proud to say I worked on Tomorrow's World when it got 10-12 million. Pretty fantastic feeling walking out of a live studio and knowing that that many people had seen my car-in-a suitcase.

  3. It's a mad old world, eh? What about Ricky Gervais' podcasts? He claims to sell over one million a week. He sells them. I mean, people buy them. For money. If you are strong of heart and stomach, have a look at his website and see how long it takes to feel a bit sick as he talks of massive success in one phrase, then uses a word beginning with 'c' and ending in 'unt' the next. Humble and respectful seems to have found its mirror image.

  4. ndre, thanks for the heads up. I had a look. Terrifying - banality, unbearable ego and an apparent urge to flog everything he is connected with, complete with put-downs of people who have downloaded stuff for free. He must really need the cash. Here is his response to the woman who threw green custard over Mandelson: "If I was Mandelson I'd carry round a bucket of AIDS spunk. And if she came near me again, she'd get a face full of Liberace juice, and no mistake." Side-splittingly hilarious eh? Yeah, he used to be funny.

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  6. A few years ago, I co-wrote a comedy that was on BBC2. Its viewing figures ranged from 1 million to 1-point-something million over the eight-part series. It was not recommissioned for a number of complex reasons, but one of them was that "the numbers" were inconsistent. It was shown at different times every week. I still don't understand why a publicly-funded broadcaster rates its own programmes by how many viewers they get, nor why newspaper media sections use the same yardstick. (I speak hypocritically as someone unnaturally obsessed by the "overnights" on the Media Guardian website.) Surely, on the BBC, it's whether the programme is "any good" or not?

    (For what it's worth, I think Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle is any good.)

  7. "I think Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle is any good"

    So Andrew, what did you really think?

  8. Can anyone explain to me why the Guardian seems to often take a negative line with Stewart Lee; a faux interview printed last week could have been taken as an appalling review, indeed I did initially, and this artcle seems needlessly damming ?

    Just wondered, thanks.