Neil McNicholas: Why have our TV channels become stuck on repeat?

Are there too many repeats of old shows like Last of the Summer Wine on TV? (PA).
Are there too many repeats of old shows like Last of the Summer Wine on TV? (PA).
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I can still remember a time when it was very rare for broadcasters to screen repeats and, if they did, it would be a long time after the original screening, perhaps in the hope that no one would notice.

Because at the time there were only three channels, an occasional repeated programme seemed more acceptable and it was assumed that it must have merited being repeated.

Not any more. In fact broadcasters make it sound like they are doing us a favour: “A second chance to see...”; “In case you missed it the first time...” (if I did there was probably a good reason for it); “Catch up on the series from the very beginning”.

In many cases, the repeats are broadcast the following day, so there is no longer any pretence as in days of yore.

I can’t help wondering whether there are regulations in place that limit just how many repeats a broadcaster can screen in a given period of time, because some of the channels are little more than glorified video machines.

UKTV Gold has been screening weekend-long episodes of Only Fools and Horses every weekend for years, and sadly the same broadcaster has succeeded in ruining my love of Last of the Summer Wine by, again, screening every episode of 
every series for two hours 
every weekday to the point that I can often read along with the script.

But that does seem to be the raison d’être of UKTV: repeats, repeats, repeats, and most of it programming we have already seen anyway when it was first broadcast – usually by the BBC.

Broadcasting repeats on such an epic scale suggests they have bought up the rights to such programmes and have no intention of spending another penny until they have squeezed the last drop of blood out of the stone.

I repeat my question, therefore, as to whether there are any regulations governing the frequency of screening repeats after which it could be rightly argued that they are not really fulfilling their remit?

A quick perusal of a typical evening’s programming on BBC1 and 2, ITV1, and Channels 4 and 5 shows that almost 20 per cent of the programmes were repeats.

BBC4, ITV2, 3 and 4, and the UKTV channels don’t even bother to indicate when programmes are repeats because that’s all they broadcast, and many of them have been around and around so many times it’s like watching the Magic Roundabout.

Basically it’s cheap television and we are being conned into accepting repeats, and repeats of repeats, and repeats of repeats of repeats, despite the fact that we are paying a licence fee and possibly also a subscription to a cable or satellite operator in the not unreasonable expectation (misguided though it might be) of being entertained and educated – but not by the same programmes that entertained us years ago or even just yesterday or the day before.

The thing is that the vast majority of people these days don’t need to watch repeats – most of us have “catch-up” facilities, or, if not, then the means to record what we might unavoidably have to miss or that we might like to keep for future viewing.

Indeed a survey this past week showed that in Christmas week there were 69.2 million requests to watch programmes on the BBC’s iPlayer alone, and a further 29.4 million requests for TV box-set programming.

True, we don’t have to watch the television except that the government forces us to pay £147 a year for the “privilege” of even just owning a television set let alone watching it, and so the least they can do is ensure that we are getting value for money, or (and here’s an idea) repay some of that fee every time the BBC (to whom the money goes) screens repeats – an impractical suggestion, I’m sure.

But why should we have to pay to watch the same programmes over and over again? Imagine what would happen if we simply posted the TV licence people a photocopy of the cheque we paid with last year, in the same way that we are expected to accept repeats of programmes we’ve already seen!

The other thing that the prevalence of repeats always seems to prove is that there is obviously a sad lack of new ideas, creative writing and the commissioning of original programming, and consequently broadcasters simply fall back on what they’ve already got “in the can” because otherwise there’d be a lot of dead air time and broadcasting authorities, and viewers themselves, might start to realise that we don’t really need hundreds and hundreds of channels.

Two or three used to be enough and might still be the case.

Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Yarm.