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The effect of ratings on quality in tv

German guy

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I'm not sure if this is the right forum, but I'd like to share an article I found in a German newspaper about the decline of quality in tv in general. Since media bias is topic of this forum, and I believe a bias towards stupidity is the most prevalent bias in the media on both sides of the ocean, I think you might be interested.

I'm to blame for all mistakes in the translation.

Just for your background information: The German tv channels are separated into two branches, public and private tv channels. The public channels are financed by a fee all owners of tv sets are supposed to pay, which allegedly makes them independent of ratings and is supposed to allow them to fulfil their responsibility of properly informing and educating the public, instead of just entertaining it. Private tv was not legalized before 1984 and since then, many private channels dominate the ratings. The public channels are under criticism now that they have been dumping down their programs in order to persist in the battle with the privates for ratings. This is what the article is about.

Here it is:

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Stultification Paid by the People

(...) If there is a reason [for the decline of quality of public tv], then it is the competition of private channels which caused the rating pressure, which is the mother of all grievances. Whenever a good program is cancelled, they say: The ratings were bad, and when a bad program remains, they say: The ratings were good. To judge over quality and supply of programs based on ratings means for the public stations to behave like mere economic enterprises, without any responsibility that goes beyond that logic. (...)

Without cynicism, a public broadcasting fee can only be justified if [public tv] it liberates quality from the market not only in the niche, but everywhere, or, with other words: If it creates independence which enables idealistic action. Idealism, in this case, doesn't mean anything arbitrary, but something very precize: Orientation at moral, cognitive and aesthetic norms, or short, the good, the true and the beautiful. Program makers will probably refuse such honorable categories, which carry the baggage of 2500 years of philosophical history, for their down-to-earth medium. Yet the categories are neither quixotic nor non-binding, as their application demonstrates.

Let's start with the good -- with morals, whose standing is not that bad. Public television is no evil medium. But when we add lack of corruption to morals, hidden manipulation, everything that can be subsummized by the term betrayal, the picture is not that good. We need to avoid the cases when information programs bought entire reports from the pharma industries, which then, in the guise of medical education or tips for childcare, were allowed to advertize. (...)

An outrageous, recurring example is hidden advertisement, the nuisance of product placement, that against all claims even exists in self-produced programs; think of the car pools automobile producers provide for certain television series. People don't even notice anymore how absurd it is when policemen are shown to have the newest and most expensive cars. (...)

And what about the beautiful, meaning culture and level of programs? (...) Television, far from raising the audience to the heights of civic education (formerly a famous demand of the German labor movement), or even from opening them the chance for participation, is now competing with the cheapest boulevard medias for the basest instincts of the dumbest parts of the population. (...)

Roger Willemsen once played with the thought that television is deliberately withdrawing from the educated demographics, because its share is marginal, because it won't grow and because, brutally said, it is a dying class, as the Bolshevists said. Even assuming that is the case, especially public television must not resignate. Its greatest and most distinguished objective would be its reconstruction and fosterage for a society that puts emphasis on knowledge. (...)

To reject this objective causes further damage. The disregard for education causes a deliberate or unconscious vulgarization, a lingering devaluation of everything and everybody. Because what is vulgar? Vulgarity is -- according to an impressive definition by Columbian philosopher Nicolas Gomez Davila -- everything which must not remain what it is. Vulgarity is the product of taking the inherent meaning out of things.

Vulgar is a quiz show, where knowledge matters only insofar as it leads to winning money, which often only happens even to the educated by guessing. Knowledge becomes guessing: That is vulgar.

Vulgar is a folk music show, where folk music is not allowed to remain folk music, but has to become chart hits, with singers who become stars, and thus are not common folk anymore.

Vulgar is a news program, where all problems, even those with structural or systemic causes, are personalized. A structural problem is not allowed to remain a structural problem, but has to become a personal problem: That is vulgar.

To confront the audience with something that is not what it is, but only what is expected to be eagerly consumed, is a contempt for the viewer a system cannot afford that is financed by the viewers. This contempt, of course, is hidden in a winking agreement with the resentment of the uneducated -- with the resentment of the one who is actually suffering from his lack of education, but hiding his suffering within the resentment. (...)

Part of this vulgarity is the nuisance of celebrity cult -- the creation and maintenance of fake celebrities, of people who have no other merit but their regular appearance on tv. How far this monkey business has come already becomes apparent when looking at the practize of making celebrities of even necessary function owners of television, like news anchors, talk masters, moderators. Television even reports about those.

With the nuisance of celebrity cult, the question for the dealing with truth is touched already -- as this monkey business includes politics and fosters the stultificating personalization here too. By far most problems in our modern world are structural and systemic problems, pretending them as if they were personalized problems makes them incomprehensible -- and in a democracy, that means unsolvable. (...)

It becomes even more absurd when talkshows are hosting actors from the same channel, or that channel's program is the topic discussed. Another example for the infection with the logic of entertainment is the choice of news anchors or moderators. Why do anchors need to be sympathetic and female moderators good looking?

It's absurd enough that the ratings of news programs are even measured at all. For what? Is the viewer supposed to decide between popular and unpopular news? The importance of news the viewer cannot judge, after all, because for doing so, he would have to know which news is not shown, thus have a broad insight only the editorial staff enjoys. So when the editorial staff bows down in front of ratings, it bows down in front of an imagined opinion among the viewers. (...)

Fortunately, this look on ratings only concerns topics so far. But what if finally, even the suspected opinion tendency of the audience will be reflected? If, for example, in order not to alienate viewers, there is pejorative reporting about foreigners? A marketing study might find anti-Semites do not feel well represented by public tv. When they are an estimated 18% to 20% of the population, that would be 15 million potential viewers, which might considerably improve ratings, if they are just pampered a little. Not that this is possible -- but it demonstrates the final consequence of rating measurement in case of news.

There are clues that support the suspicion that within the tv channels, rule of ratings is confused with democracy. That's why maybe, it's not superfluous to emphasize that democracy is a kind of government that cannot as analogy arbitrarily be transferred to other fields of society -- certainly not on public television, because in that case, its independence would be gone.

There can be no poll or voting on the true, the beautiful and the good. Not on the true, on knowledge and news, because a statement is either true or false, regardless of what a majority wants to be true. Not on the beautiful, the culturally important, because it is principally incommensurable (according to a word by Goethe) and because it always enstranges in the form of the new or the forgotten. So when a report about the painter Giotto has bad ratings, it doesn't mean it should not have been broadcast -- just that the common knowledge of the viewers needs a little extra education. There can be no vote on the good either, on norms or morals -- out of 100 people, maybe only two recognize the morally necessary, while the remaining 98 rather want to see the mob hunted foreigner bleeding to death in the pieces of a broken window glass. (...)

Actually, there are few reasons to assume television programs are just a proper reflection of society. As the new run on universities and higher schools demonstrates, there is a considerable amount of ambition regarding education. Why does television not care about that? Or, differently worded, why does it focus on those parts of the population that don't participate in that? And if it locates its objective within these demographics -- why doesn't it do anything to improve their cognitive state?

Those are the questions that have been asked for twenty years, without the tv stations ever giving an answer -- except for the one that ratings are proving the viewers don't want to improve their education. One could even get the Satanic thought the program makers even like what they are doing, that they are fans of [cheap folk music shows, campy soap operas] and inferior music programs. The alternative is not more optimistic: They are cynicists who despise the masses for consuming something they themselves would never watch. (...)
------------------------

Öffentlich-Rechtliche Sender: Vom Volk bezahlte Verblödung | Gesellschaft | ZEIT ONLINE

Do you have any thoughts on this?
 

Qatzel Ok

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Part of this vulgarity is the nuisance of celebrity cult -- the creation and maintenance of fake celebrities, of people who have no other merit but their regular appearance on tv. How far this monkey business has come already becomes apparent when looking at the practize of making celebrities of even necessary function owners of television, like news anchors, talk masters, moderators. Television even reports about those.
The celebrity culture of television DOES have an important function.

By creating a narrative of people who are rich and famous without being that talented or doing any really wonderful things, the wealthy few who own mass media are telling their audience that this is the way things are in the REAL WORLD.

They are justifying their own unequal existences by shoving sexually provocative unequals in your face, and suggesting that you worship them.
 

Harshaw

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Actually, I think the quality of TV is higher now than it ever has been before, and I'm not alone in the industry having that opinion.
 

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Actually, I think the quality of TV is higher now than it ever has been before, and I'm not alone in the industry having that opinion.
I don't really have an encompassing opinion on the American tv landscape, but I noticed that when it comes to entertainment, especially premium cable has brought quite a few real quality tv series in the past decade. I think of shows like "Sopranos", "Six Feet Under", "Mad Men", "Rome" which, IMHO, are on a much higher quality level than basically all free tv shows I know. I assume premium cable can afford some quality, because they don't rely on ratings as much as free tv.

As for news and politics programs on American TV, I only had the chance of watching some of it in 2004, when I was in the US for two weeks, and MSNBC and CNN Europe, which are available here in Germany too. What I've seen was crap. The worst crap of it all is FOX News. Lurid, simplifying, hardly background reports, constant bloating up of real non-issues. If that impression is representative, I'd say if you want proper political information in America, don't try to get it from tv. Papers are probably a much better alternative. But maybe I have missed a few gems hidden between the waste, and I don't know if there are good pay tv alternatives.

As for the comment posted above, it refers to German tv. And I can tell you, most of what you see in the private channels is utter crap. Just like the author of that opinion piece describes: Stupid casting shows, cheap soaps, "scripted reality tv" shows (which are not just stupid, but outright inhumane and debasing, because they foster prejudices and incite the audience against allegedly always dumb, lazy and ugly welfare recipients) or talkshows where, as highlight, barely literal anti-social scum is shouting at each other. It's a competition between the cheapest boulevard medias for the basest instincts of the dumbest parts of the population (and those with the most rotten taste). And that's just the private channels, which make ca. 60% of the German tv market. The 40% of public tv is slightly better, but worse enough -- there are just a few niche channels for culture and a higher standard of entertainment (like 3sat, a German-Austrian-Swiss channel, or arte, a French-German channel), or for actually meaningful political debate and uncut parliament debates (like Phoenix channel), which I think have an acceptable standard. If there was no public financing, we'd probably not even have these few alternatives.

Of course you sometimes find one or the other nice movie in the privates too, sometimes, or one or the other acceptable series. But the self-produced stuff is really the worst trash you can imagine. Dumb, loud, shrill and simple.
 

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Premium channels run on ratings just as much as any other channel. You can't make money if no one watches your shows.
 

German guy

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Premium channels run on ratings just as much as any other channel. You can't make money if no one watches your shows.
Of course. But shows in pay tv are not that directly dependent on ratings, as shows in free tv. In free tv, the ratings of every single episode count to determine how much ads you can sell. In case of pay tv, it's more important that there are generally good ratings that contribute to the decision of viewers to rent a channel. Also, pay tv doesn't need as many viewers as free tv does. They can afford to focus on a niche. They don't need every tasteless Joe average to make money.
 

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Pay channels have advertising, too. But even if they didn't, you still need to give people something they want to watch in order to entice them to pay for your services, so in that sense, they're actually MORE in the thrall of ratings.
 

Qatzel Ok

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Actually, I think the quality of TV is higher now than it ever has been before, and I'm not alone in the industry having that opinion.
When you say the "quality" of TV has gotten better, are you talking about the production values (lighting, costumes, script)... or are you saying that the narrative has become less product-centered and more about teaching useful values to the mass-media-viewing community?

Are you talking about the content or the style when you say "quality has improved?"
 

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Pay channels have advertising, too. But even if they didn't, you still need to give people something they want to watch in order to entice them to pay for your services, so in that sense, they're actually MORE in the thrall of ratings.
Yes. I am not sure why you are writing this. Is this supposed to be agreement to what I wrote? Because that is exactly what I wrote above. If you are attempting to present a new argument, you have to be clearer.
 

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I'm talking about content and style, and "teaching useful values" is a whole basket of assumptions that really have no bearing on TV quality. If you think a chief role of entertainment television is to shape thought, then you favor propaganda, not quality.
 

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Yes. I am not sure why you are writing this. Is this supposed to be agreement to what I wrote? Because that is exactly what I wrote above. If you are attempting to present a new argument, you have to be clearer.
I reread what you wrote:

But shows in pay tv are not that directly dependent on ratings, as shows in free tv. In free tv, the ratings of every single episode count to determine how much ads you can sell. In case of pay tv, it's more important that there are generally good ratings that contribute to the decision of viewers to rent a channel.
I was responding the part in bold, but I think you contradicted yourself somewhat in th next sentence. So, I'm not actually sure what you're saying.
 

Qatzel Ok

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I'm talking about content and style, and "teaching useful values" is a whole basket of assumptions that really have no bearing on TV quality. If you think a chief role of entertainment television is to shape thought, then you favor propaganda, not quality.
Whether I like it or not, mass media teaches values by normalizing them to viewers. So for mass media to have "quality," it would have to teach useful societal values - if this is what you meant by "quality of content."

But I don't think this is what you meant, Harshaw. What exactly DO you mean by "quality content" regarding the recent improvement of TV content?
 

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Whether I like it or not, mass media teaches values by normalizing them to viewers. So for mass media to have "quality," it would have to teach useful societal values
And that's a basket of assumptions as to what's "useful" as a societal value.

- if this is what you meant by "quality of content."
Why would you ever think that I meant that?


But I don't think this is what you meant, Harshaw. What exactly DO you mean by "quality content" regarding the recent improvement of TV content?
The productions are much better. The scripts are much better. The acting is much better. Everything that makes narrative film better is better. I do not attempt to assign a value to any particular point of view depicted through it.
 

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I do not attempt to assign a value to any particular point of view depicted through it.
What's the point of watching it if you don't assign any value to the point of view depicted?

What if it encourages hyperconsumption and asocial levels of competition?

What if it makes you paranoid or unresponsive to human affection?

Would you still keep watching as long as the lighting and acting are really good?

Because for me, the "quality" is in the values that are being projected, and NOT in the quality of the lighting or script. You can find much better lighting outside, and better unscripted dialogues with people in the street.

Aren't you afraid of the values you are absorbing watching mass meda?
 

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What's the point of watching it if you don't assign any value to the point of view depicted?

What if it encourages hyperconsumption and asocial levels of competition?

What if it makes you paranoid or unresponsive to human affection?

Would you still keep watching as long as the lighting and acting are really good?

Because for me, the "quality" is in the values that are being projected, and NOT in the quality of the lighting or script. You can find much better lighting outside, and better unscripted dialogues with people in the street.

Aren't you afraid of the values you are absorbing watching mass meda?
Not being a moron easily swayed by a TV show, no, I'm not afraid of that. Besides, I rather enjoy watching and exploring all sorts of points of view. And the best shows are the ones which challenge your thought.

Are you saying you can't watch/enjoy/appreciate something which conflicts with your preferred worldview? Are you saying that "quality" is about the message, and if it has what you consider a "poor" message, its quality is poor?
 

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Not being a moron easily swayed by a TV show, no, I'm not afraid of that.
Are you saying that you are too intelligent to be swayed by mass media? How much IQ is necessary to be immune like you are, Harshaw?

Besides, I rather enjoy watching and exploring all sorts of points of view.
How many Iranian news specials have you seen? What about political documentaries produced by homeless people?

And the best shows are the ones which challenge your thought.
If commercial media "challenges your thought," I'm not sure how you can be so sure that you're invulnerable to its influence.
 

Harshaw

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Are you saying that you are too intelligent to be swayed by mass media? How much IQ is necessary to be immune like you are, Harshaw?
It doesn't take a high IQ; it simply takes effort.


How many Iranian news specials have you seen? What about political documentaries produced by homeless people?
At least one of each. But I've been talking about narrative, entertainment TV all along, which should have been obvious. You're talking about irrelevant nonsense.


If commercial media "challenges your thought," I'm not sure how you can be so sure that you're invulnerable to its influence.
Who said anything about "invulnerable"? If someone presents a thought-provoking idea, I'll think about it.

But what I won't do is buy something just because I see it in a TV show.

I'm sorry you apparently have such a problem with TV shows that don't jibe with your own point of view. Not all of us are so limited.
 

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It doesn't take a high IQ; it simply takes effort.




At least one of each. But I've been talking about narrative, entertainment TV all along, which should have been obvious. You're talking about irrelevant nonsense.




Who said anything about "invulnerable"? If someone presents a thought-provoking idea, I'll think about it.

But what I won't do is buy something just because I see it in a TV show.

I'm sorry you apparently have such a problem with TV shows that don't jibe with your own point of view. Not all of us are so limited.
What kind of effort do you put into NOT being manipulated by the media you watch? Do you carefully analyze the values that are being portrayed or ignored?

And other than "thought-provoking ideas," what of the fact that most media has commercial sponsors? Doesn't this alter the kinds of "thought-provoking" ideas you see in media? And more importantly, doesn't this affect the entire society around you? Is this likely to be a positive or negative effect, the commercial orientation of media as an information source?

But I've been talking about narrative, entertainment TV all along, which should have been obvious.

So have I. We "learn" from entertainment TV because we don't realize that it's propaganda. It's the most effective kind. If most sitcoms feature likeable stars who get abortions and eat corn chips, our entire society will consume more of both products.
 

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What kind of effort do you put into NOT being manipulated by the media you watch? Do you carefully analyze the values that are being portrayed or ignored?
Of course I do, as any intellectually responsible person should.


And other than "thought-provoking ideas," what of the fact that most media has commercial sponsors? Doesn't this alter the kinds of "thought-provoking" ideas you see in media?
Doesn't matter, because not being a moron easily swayed by a TV show, I evaluate all of the ideas on the same basis.

And more importantly, doesn't this affect the entire society around you? Is this likely to be a positive or negative effect, the commercial orientation of media as an information source?
It's up to every individual to be intellectually responsible. If some choose not to be, well, it's a free society where that choice is perfectly allowed.


But I've been talking about narrative, entertainment TV all along, which should have been obvious.

So have I.
:roll:

No, you haven't. You've been yapping about "Iranian news speicals" and "documentaries made by the homeless." Why do you have to lie to make a point? Further, why lie about something that's easily shown to be false in a post on the same page?


We "learn" from entertainment TV because we don't realize that it's propaganda.
Perhaps you don't. Perhaps others don't, either. Not my problem.

It's the most effective kind. If most sitcoms feature likeable stars who get abortions and eat corn chips, our entire society will consume more of both products.
So you want the government to control the "message." Look, I get it. I got that quite a while ago.

Fortunately, our First Amendment keeps you from seeing that goal achieved.

Which, of course, is entirely beside the point as to TV quality, to which the message is irrelevant.
 

Qatzel Ok

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No, you haven't. You've been yapping about "Iranian news speicals" and "documentaries made by the homeless." Why do you have to lie to make a point? Further, why lie about something that's easily shown to be false in a post on the same page?
I didn't "talk about them." I asked YOU if you'd seen any, and you said "sure, I have."

My point was that mainstream media is almost entirely comprised of the same formulai being utilized to express favoritism towards the same class interests - those of the rich.

That we don't have movies made by homeless people at the cineplex, or weekly sitcoms made by poor inner city blacks.... this shows how all media viewers learn to have the opinions and attitudes that the rich want them to have: anti-poor, anti-social programs, anti-Muslim neighbors of Israel. The ratings only tell TV producers which types of propaganda "work."
 

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That we don't have movies made by homeless people at the cineplex, or weekly sitcoms made by poor inner city blacks.... this shows how all media viewers learn to have the opinions and attitudes that the rich want them to have: anti-poor, anti-social programs, anti-Muslim neighbors of Israel. The ratings only tell TV producers which types of propaganda "work."
That is easily one of the most asinine things I've ever read on this board, and that's really, really saying something.
 

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That is easily one of the most asinine things I've ever read on this board, and that's really, really saying something.
I guess ad hom attacks are permitted on this board. But can you argue against the content of what I said, other than saying that it was "asinine?"
 

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What exactly do you think an "ad hom" is? I said the post was asinine. And it is.

You can see examples of exactly the kind of "programming" you're talking about on YouTube. It's utter crap. It isn't commercially viable. No one would watch it. No one DOES watch it. No audience, no money, not on TV. Not even on PBS. And certainly not in the cineplex.

You think some kind of grand conspiracy against it. Well, I'll tell you what it is: it sucks, and no one wants to watch it.
 

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You can see examples of exactly the kind of "programming" you're talking about on YouTube. It's utter crap.
I have boycotted TV and film since 2001, but I do use YouTube extensively, as well as read a lot more than I used to when I was a commercial media tard.

There is such a variety of information on YouTube that it is impossible to label it all as crap, as you did.

Mainstream media - on the other hand - can be classified as crap because it is all owned by a handful of rich people who have NO INTEREST in a well informed public. They have relied on the same dumming down formulae for a few decades, and are losing eyeballs to other stimuli.



Notice how TV and film lost a sizable chunk of their zombie audience in ONE YEAR ALONE.
 
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There's a Conspiracy Theories forum, you know. I suggest you take this there.
 
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