By Alex Fraser, EVP Acquisitions & Content Investment, Red Arrow Studios International
“How many people in TV today would say out loud they want to use TV to make Britain a better place?” Dorothy Byrne asked a room full of commissioners, creators and distributors in her superb, barn-storming MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh International TV Festival.
This confronting question has caused us to collectively reflect on the human value of our business – including the awful reality of harassment and inequality that has impacted our industry – and, of course, the content we are delivering to audiences. In these challenging times, it’s easy for businesses to focus on rising budgets and the fight for eyeballs – but it’s also important to remember that television can be – sometimes is – a noble art-form, and its power to simultaneously entertain and inform audiences shouldn’t be overlooked.
While big social questions may be difficult to address in unscripted TV content, it is imperative they are not shied away from, as broadcast television has the power to create real dialogue alongside impactful and long-lasting change. In the scripted space, we see big issues right at the forefront of dystopian series such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Black Mirror and Years and Years, but in unscripted there’s scope to create more comfortable viewing that is uplifting and positive while still addressing real issues.
For example, the format for our enduringly popular social experiment series Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, produced by Red Arrow Studios’ CPL Productions for Channel 4, has sold to 13 territories in just two years and has become real family viewing as it effectively tackles issues of social isolation and ageing populations head-on, as does CPL’s new series The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes, which has provoked wider national conversations about how we think of people living with dementia. Proud as I am of our shows, there are others. Across the Atlantic, A&E’s Born This Way is another fantastic example of a series which has had a hugely positive and tangible impact on the world, changing perceptions of how society views those with Down’s Syndrome. There is evidence these factual entertainment formats, that have a social responsibility woven into them, speak to a wide audience and have had a real-life positive impact.
This type of heart-warming and hugely engaging content, which at the same time informs and holds a mirror to society, should be embraced by broadcasters. Its international success proves it does not have to come at the expense of revenue or entertainment value.