If anyone doubts the rich breadth of British broadcasting talent, they should study the winners of this year’s Broadcasting Press Guild Awards, just announced at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London’s West End.
The winners range from Wolf Hall, a Tudor historical epic, to Doctor Foster, a modern-day crime thriller, from The Great British Bake-Off, the most-watched TV show of last year, to Russell T Davies’ edgy triptych about gay life, Cucumber, Bananaand Tofu.
Wolf Hall, on BBC Two, was one of two programmes that won two prizes – best drama series and best actor (Mark Rylance). The Channel 4 comedy Catastrophe was named best comedy and won the writers’ award.
Online and on-demand programmes also had their best showing yet at the 42nd annual BPG awards, which were sponsored for the first time by Sky’s online streaming service NOW TV.
Peter Kay’s Car Share, which debuted on BBC iPlayer, won the inaugural Best Made For Online (Digital First) award and Amazon, once just an American online book retailer, was shortlisted for the first time.
The BPG is a national association of journalists who write about TV and radio, so these awards matter. Critics and media correspondents, who are notoriously hard to please, vote to decide the shortlists and the winners. The programmes must also be produced in Britain.
This year, we made two important changes to our awards that reflect the changing broadcasting landscape.
First, we introduced the Best Made for Online (Digital First) award because we have reached a tipping-point for online and on-demand viewing.
A year ago, we debated whether we needed this award but decided there were not enough high-quality shows. But now, things feel different. BBC3 has gone online-only, Amazon is investing in UK programming like Jeremy Clarkson’s new motoring show, Sky is releasing series such as The Last Panthers first on-demand and, just this week, Vice Media announced plans for a TV channel in the UK, with selected shows premiering first on-demand.
But who knows? In a few years’ time, the BPG might feel it does not need this award as internet and linear broadcasting merge into one.
We have already seen how the cable, satellite and digital companies like Sky, Discovery and UKTV are now creating original, British programmes that are every bit as good as those made by the traditional public-service broadcasters – the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.
That is why, in the second significant change this year, we decided to drop the Best Multi-Channel Award. The non-PSBs don’t need a category of their own any more. For proof, look at how Sky got seven nominations, Amazon two, and UKTV and BT one each.
Judging by our winners, British broadcasting is in good health. Viewing figures from Thinkbox, the commercial trade body, show that we are watching more TV – whether it’s on the big screen, on our smartphones, on a laptop or a tablet. Last year, the average Briton watched 3 hours 51 minutes of TV a day, down one per cent on 2014 but up five per cent on 2005.
So today feels like a good time to make a bigger point about British broadcasting.
The UK is an extraordinary hotbed of creative talent with four great broadcasting organizations: the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky.
But it is a very delicate ecology – a mix of state ownership, public-private partnership, advertiser funding and subscriptions – and all of us who love broadcasting don’t want to see that ecology damaged.
So let us hope that our prime minister, who was once the director of communications for Carlton TV, thinks very carefully about the final BBC licence fee settlement later this year and whether to sell Channel 4.