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TV gets unfairly blamed for social ills, from celebrity culture to promiscuity to poor manners – and of course for poor health because watching TV usually encourages people to sit down and not, say, jog. Sedentary lifestyles certainly affect health but watching TV is just one of the things you can choose to do when you’re not jogging, along with reading War and Peace, playing Scrabble and tweeting. Even Mo Farah has to sit down and relax sometimes. It is perfectly possible to fit the average 4 hours of TV a day within an active lifestyle.
And then there’s TV advertising, which gets blamed for making us fat, thin, drunk and, above all, acquisitive. Without doubt TV is a supremely powerful force but its power to do good is mostly ignored. Imagine if people defined ‘the Internet’ solely as an aid to paedophile grooming or identity theft. TV has huge power to do positive things for society. Many brands already use TV to educate and motivate people to change their behaviour positively and to make better brand choices if they care about their own lives, other people’s lives and the lives of future generations.
The magical combination of entertainment, education andinformation has shaped TV from its earliest days, and isenshrined in a public service ethos that is both protected byregulation for many commercial channels but also protectedby cultural tastes and conscience in the rest. Here’s anoverview of how TV does good:
TV makes us happy
If, as the American Declaration of Independence stated,the pursuit of human happiness is a fundamental right,alongside life and liberty, then TV, at its simplest, makes asignificant contribution to human wellbeing. Whether that’slaughing at Harry Hill, Peep Show or 30Rock, playing alongwith the contestants on The Chase or Million Pound Drop,singing along with Jinsy, working out how Dynamo doeshis tricks, or feeling all warm and fuzzy when Sean finallykisses Stella, giving people joyful TV entertainment is a noble ambition.
TV brings us together
Lots of TV is shared: 50% overall and 70% during peak-timein multi-person households. Watching TV together is one ofthe main ways we spend time being a couple or a family.TV is what we love to talk about with our friends and family,on the sofa or with our virtual friends online.Corrie, Hollyoaks, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, I’m A Celebrity,Get Me Out Of Here, MasterChef, Primeval, The Simpsons…whatever you want to talk about, TV glues families and thenation together like nothing else. It gives us common culturalreference points without which it would be almost impossibleto tell a joke.
TV informs us
One of TV’s core Reithian roles is to keep people informed,and to do this in a trusted, reliable and impartial way.
Regular news programmes, whole news channels, andcurrent affairs programmes underpin our democratic life andbring the world to us, properly explained and contextualised.TV is the main way Britons get their daily news: in Ofcom’s2012 study, 76% of people stated that their main source ofnews about the UK and the world is TV. The next nearestmedium was newspapers at 8%. You might hear aboutsome news via a comment online first, but you’d be wisenot to believe it until you’ve checked it with a reputablenews source. TV reporters – and print and radio too – dothe heavy lifting in journalism: frontline reporting, years ofinvestigation. Online platforms invest in very little of thatbut are an excellent way to re-distribute that news.
But it’s not just about breaking instant news. TVdocumentaries take dedicated, relentless investigation,over years sometimes, to expose outrages in all partsof the world. Channel 4’s harrowing Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields is just one example and led to a change in policy at theUnited Nations. On a more local level, ITV’s Exposure featuringJimmy Savile’s victims began a process to right the wrongsof the past. And Channel 4’s Drugs Live contributed to thedebate on this topic.
And TV has other ways to bring big issues to people. Comedyand drama tackle important topics in a different way andreach audiences who might be less willing to watch a currentaffairs programme. Homeland explored the threat of terrorism,its complex origins and motivations, and its relationship withthe intelligence services. The shocking exposé of theLeeds paedophile ring was an issue confronted in Scott &Bailey with great sensitivity, helping us better appreciate howeasily power can be exerted over young people.
Not many laughs there. But humour actually can be a greatway to deal with politics and current affairs; there’s a long listof satirical shows which highlight topical issues in anapproachable way, and often spark debate among youngerviewers, for instance 10 O’Clock Live, Argumental,and Mock the Week.
TV educates us
TV’s contribution to the broad educationof the UK is considerable. Wholechannels are dedicated to teachingus about history (the History Channel),science (Discovery Channel), thearts (Sky Arts), or nature (NationalGeographic). Storytelling and humourcan be used to help people understandeven the most daunting of subjects.UKTV tackled maths by using a friendlyface to present it in Dara O’Briain:School of Hard Sums.
TV has a very particular contributionto make to children’s educationand development. With all sorts ofprogrammes made especially forparticular age groups of children,TV offers every sort of stimulationand support. Children learn abouttheir emotions and about society;they learn about things like families,kindness, and bullying; how to bea good friend or deal with loss. Theystart to develop empathy by seeingthe lives of different sorts of people indifferent parts of the world, throughstories made just for them. TV alsosupports more academic learning withmany kids’ programmes reflecting thenational curriculum.
TV helps us understand ourselves
Children aren’t the only people whoneed to be reminded constantly ofwhat it means to be human. Whateverour age, TV is where we learn aboutourselves, our emotions and aspirations,and it helps shape our values. Manynew students would have taken somecomfort from the storyline in Fresh Meatabout virginity. Seeing our personaldilemmas and relationships reflectedin TV drama helps us to understandourselves better: loneliness, heroism,cowardice, generosity, loyalty. Seeingreal people tackle their challenges indocumentaries can profoundly changeour attitudes; who could forget the lifejourneys in the epic 56 UP, or not feelempathy for The Compulsive Hoarderor The Undateables?
TV inspires us
But TV doesn’t just tell people things;it inspires them to get out and dothings too.
Ice rinks fill up when Dancing on Iceis on air; people rush to buy booksfeatured on TV; ingredients featuredon cookery shows sell out; peopleare inspired to redesign their gardensand homes.
TV even influences subjects studied atuniversity and careers. Professor BrianCox has reportedly caused a surgein applications to read astrophysics.The Guardian reported a 17% increasein applications to study midwifery,boosted by TV series like One Born Every Minute.
One of the most repeated lines fromthe London 2012 manifesto was‘Inspiring a generation’ and parentsknow that all big sporting events,watched overwhelmingly via TV, willget kids on their bikes, down the pool,running – and maybe the parents too.
Broadcasters use TV’s ability to inspireaction to launch their own appealsand campaigns. Change for Life,ITV’s Soccer Aid, Hugh’s Fish Fighton Channel 4, and Sky’s RainforestRescue appeal are just a handfulof the many positive initiatives thatbroadcasters have undertaken, eitheralone or in partnership with charitiesand government.
All the programmes mentioned aboveare found on commercial TV channelsand so are funded to a great extentby advertising. If you agree thatcommercial TV achieves positive things,advertising should be recognised forits contribution to our lives.
TV: doing good
This event was designed for the charity and not-for-profit sector, but also for commercial brands that are looking to add an ethical or sustainability dimension to their communications. We also shared some new research into how people respond to charity and government advertising and gathered some industry experts to share their experience and reveal their top tips on using TV for good. For those of you who didn't manage to grab a hot ticket to our recent event launching this study, or would like to watch some of the presentations and discussions again, you can do that right here, on-demand, without even leaving the room.
We know advertising pays back for individual advertisers, but to what extent does it actually boost the economy? ‘Advertising Pays’, a Deloitte report commissioned by the Advertising Association, sets out to quantify and qualify the economic effects of the £16bn spent on advertising in the UK every year. It finds that for every £1 spent on advertising, the economy grows by £6. This amounts to a £100bn effect on total GDP. Here you can find out how and why advertising will play a key role in revitalising our economy, along with insight and reaction from Cilla Snowball CBE, Nicola Mendelsohn, Gavin Patterson and The Rt. Hon. Maria Miller MP: essential reading.