A diatribe on the scheduling of BBC shows

The iPlayer is, of course, one of the BBC’s biggest success stories of recent years. Easily the best catch-up player, it’s available on numerous devices (e.g. computers, set-top boxes, tablets, phones) and even allows you to download a lot of programmes so you can watch them when you don’t have Internet access.

But I’m starting to wonder if the BBC hasn’t got so accustomed to people using the iPlayer that they’ve forgotten not only that most people have lives but that the iPlayer isn’t a panacea to all-known viewing problems.

My problems with the BBC’s scheduling started with BBC4’s imported shows. Once upon a time, the BBC would import a show and air it one episode at a time on a Saturday night, with a repeat during the week. Spiral/Engrenages went out at a decent clip for eight weeks, an hour a week, and everyone was happy.

Then along came The Killing, which at 20 episodes, was apparently too much for the BBC to air at the rate of one episode a week. Assuming presumably that people weened on the “box set weekend” wouldn’t watch one TV show for 20 weeks – ignoring the fact Americans do it all the time, as do soap opera fans – BBC4 starting airing two episodes of the show a week. Yes, two hours of TV every week for 10 weeks.

Now some people can do that, and if you watch your TV live, that’s great. But that’s not what my Saturday nights are about. But with the iPlayer, I can in theory watch those two episodes over the course of the week, wherever and whenever I want.

Yet, that’s not how it ever turned out for me. As soon as I saw The Killing in my play list, I thought to myself: “Christ, I’ve got two hours of this to watch.” Maybe it would have helped if it hadn’t been subtitled, which meant I couldn’t iron or do anything else while watching it. Either way, by the time I’d got to episode eight, the show was up to episode 14 and I gave up.

But soon this became the set pattern. Even Spiral/Engrenages started being belted out at two episodes of a week – you wait a year for it to arrive and then it’s gone in less than a month: where’s the justice in that?

Then the BBC started to forget altogether that people have lives. The Killing 3 turned up and not only was there no download option due to rights issues, the iPlayer would only carry each episode for a week. So you had to watch those two episodes within a week, attached to something with Internet access, or that was that. No more The Killing 3 for you. That meant, even trying my absolutely best, I still missed an episode and a half out of its 10 episodes.

Watching TV shouldn’t be this much hard work, should it?

What’s the consequence of this ‘stripping’ policy? Borgen‘s on BBC4’s on Saturday now. Two more episodes have just aired. The show’s up to episode four but I’m midway through episode one. I’m thinking of dropping it as a result.

Yes, the consequence is this: people stop watching your show. And in case the thought of DVDs is floating through BBC Worldwide or some other distributor’s mind right now, I haven’t gone back to watch The Killing, even though it’s both on DVD and available for free on Netflix. I’ve given up and I’m not going back.

Now this mild petulance of mine has been brought to the forefront of my mind by a bit of scheduling by BBC1. BBC1, of course, doesn’t do the “two episodes on a Saturday” thing. It does cross-week scheduling. It stuck Torchwood: Miracle Day on for five nights in a row. Case Histories and other shows have all had the “one episode a night for x nights” treatment, too. I didn’t watch them as a result, even though I’d wanted to.

But right now on BBC Daytime, no less, BBC1 is airing the new Father Brown stories with Mark Williams as Father Brown. I’d like to show you a video, but no bright spark at the BBC has actually put together a trailer. So here’s a picture instead.

Mark Williams

There are 10 episodes of Father Brown and BBC1 is airing them daily. That’s right, in two weeks, it’ll all be over.

Now, in a sense, this is the right forum for it. Spool back to the 80s and you could watch an episode of Crown Court every day on ITV. People at home during the day have as much right to decent TV as everyone else. And let’s face it, a lot of people at home during the day will often have an hour or so free every day to watch TV in.

But in another sense, this is yet another bit of scheduling seemingly designed to stop people watching a TV show. This might be the best Father Brown in the world, but it’s unlikely I’m ever going to watch the episodes. One episode a week and I’d probably have lapped it up. But one a day? Not a chance.

So, please, BBC. Please stop burning off shows so that people actually have a chance to watch them, to tell their friends about them and let others discover them. Please?