Jhere are several possible reactions to the news that the newly launched talkTV recorded no viewers during prime time broadcasts. One is to politely note that a new TV channel – especially if it’s competing in an already saturated market – will take some time to find its identity. Another is to realize that life is far too short and precious to spend your evenings watching Piers Morgan whip himself into a wet dribble of performative indignation over something he only lightly believes in. Both reactions are valid. I prefer the latter.
What’s fascinating about talkTV’s failure to set the world on fire is how jaded Morgan is about it. “Linear TV is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the full eyeball potential of a global show like this, especially with younger viewers who don’t really watch TV anymore,” he tweeted last week; a statement in stark contrast to the compulsive competition he had with Dan Walker over the Good Morning Britain ratings.
But, and oh my God, that hurts, Morgan might be right. It’s true that talkTV had zero viewers – in truth the term means people may have watched it, but not in enough numbers for the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (Barb) to register – but it is far from being the only one. Last July, in the wake of one of its presenters taking a knee on the air, GB News also recorded no viewers. A year before that, Steph McGovern’s lunchtime show on Channel 4 had done the same. In 2019, BBC Scotland New broadcasts recorded no viewers, as did a repeat of Blue Peter in 2017.
And it was only the zero-rated shows that managed to push Shawshank past Barb’s incomprehensibly tight clutches, leaked to the press by TV insiders to prove some sort of point. In reality, there’s a huge chance that we’re all swimming in a world of completely unwatched television.
The medium is already in decline. UK analytics firm Digital TV Research predicted this year that 1.4 million UK households will give up their pay-TV subscriptions by 2027, perhaps because we realize we’re paying through the nose to not not watch 99% of what’s on our TVs.
Just dig into your EPG and you’ll see. Go all the way downstairs, like you do in hotel rooms when you realize you’ve left your Roku key at home, and remember: we live in an age where streaming services allow us to instant access to all the best television that has ever been made, offering an almost endless choice of viewing options.
Now, with that in mind, how many people are going to come home from another dissatisfying day at work and crumble over 30 Movie Monsters With Pat Sharp on Now 80s? How many people are going to sweetly kick their partner at 8.15pm, telling them to turn off Bridgerton because Joyce’s Ulcer, the third episode of the 1989 ITV sitcom Surgical Spirit, has just started on Forces TV? And, sure, maybe some people would tune into Sky Nature HD’s Dogs With Extraordinary Jobs, but my gut feeling is that they’d all log off after 15 minutes, annoyed by the dogs bragging about their wonderful careers.
And these shows don’t have the luxury of being widely advertised by a powerful multinational media company, like talkTV does. My four year old son has never seen a photo of Surgical Spirit on the side of a bus and told me he wanted to watch it, like he did with Piers Morgan Uncensored yesterday morning. That’s fine, by the way. I sold it now.
But if people aren’t watching talkTV, they aren’t watching hundreds of other shows either. We find ourselves in a landscape of television orphans, floating in the ether, forgotten and unguarded. So, to reiterate, Morgan might be right. People don’t watch TV, and his show certainly isn’t the least watched on TV right now. But, after watching some of it on YouTube, I can tell you that it’s probably the most unbearable. I hope this can help.