“Inspired by the BBC4 documentary celebrating 80 years of BBC TV on 2nd Nov, Rob McWhirter explains why having conference main day (and the leader’s speech) on a Friday is a lousy idea.”
A few years ago, a wine journalist was interviewing an elderly Italian wine maker. The vintner spent some time complaining about the tough competition from his neighbours. Hmm, said the journalist, what about Portugal, Argentina and Chile? The old man looked surprised. “They make wine”? As the journalist left, he concluded, sadly, the real problem was that the old man had no idea who and where the competition actually was.
So where do UKIP and TV come into matters? Like (probably) most of you, I used to think having conference on a Friday/Saturday pairing, with maybe some Thursday training, worked well. Until, however, a good friend of mine, a former branch chairman who had helped organise the Bristol conference in 2004, and is ex BBC, pulled the wool comprehensively from my eyes. When it comes to the realities of media scheduling, he knows his stuff, and we should heed his wisdom.
Consider the image above. When I was growing up, in the 60s, 70s and 80s, every region had its own TV station, awarded on franchises every seven years. The programmes were prefixed with the maker’s logos, and so it was very noticeable that London has TWO franchisees: on Fridays, at around 6pm, Thames was replaced by LWT. The weekend had started! It wasn’t just London, however. The whole of British TV reflected this – and still does – serious stuff like Panorama was on a Monday, Midweek was World in Action, Thursday had Question Time and This Week, and the next day? Erm, TFI Friday and the Word…
With Nigel giving his speech on Friday lunchtime, we have to wait 6 days before it gets discussed on QT or Andrew Neil’s late-night sofa. This gives a long window for other items to climb higher up the agenda. It’s no coincidence other parties do their key speeches on Tuesday or Wednesday!
Stripped current affairs shows feel the impact, too. At first glance, the Six O’clock News runs Monday to Friday, as does Newsnight. But look closer. All is definitely not equal.
On Friday, the last 5 or so minutes of the news is a guaranteed “Sports look-ahead to the weekend”, and as for Newsnight, the running time is reduced from 45 minutes Mon-Thu, to 35 minutes or less – it used to be 30 – with the extra time going to some thing Arty – The Review Show or Jools Holland.
So, even with the most sympathetic editorial team possible, and the best speech or policy possible, there is physically less time available to them on a Friday, and, whilst we do get airtime, how much more could we get on a different day of the week?
We currently ask people to travel and train on a Thursday,hear the leader on Friday, debate the accounts and a regional based NEC on Saturday, and return Sunday.
Why not swap it so that people travel, train and debate at the weekend, hear our new leader on Monday, and return on Tuesday?
If we really are serious about being the third biggest party in British politics, then we need to work with the natural order of TV rather than against it – and that means having our big news on a day when people aren’t switching into “unwind for weekend” mode. And if we show the TV companies that we get their reality and agenda (better late than never), then hopefully they will reciprocate.
Next month, we will have a new leader and largely changed NEC. Let’s have a new conference schedule, too!