Internet killed the (Maltese) TV star

Viewers are turning to international programmes in droves, especially now that the internet gives us easy access to top quality material that’s just a click away. But what can Maltese TV stations do to win them back? A Broadcasting Authority report sought to tackle exactly that question…

Lack of quality programming is driving away audiences from local TV productions – a critical problem when the internet gives us boundless choice, a Broadcasting Authority report has found. 

Though the report – penned by Prof. Marilyn Clark and Dr Joanna Spiteri – acknowledges quality as being subjective, it is still identified as being the biggest chink in the Maltese TV armour, affecting all genres of programming and doing nothing to stop viewers from just flicking over to an international channel, or something cherry-picked from the Web. 

What emerges from ‘Quality in Television Broadcasting: The Televiewers Perspective’ is that local TV drama could use some proper editing, that most local TV presenters appear unprofessional and that adverts on Maltese television are too numerous and intrusive. Additionally, viewers bemoaned a lack of diversity on local television – which they deemed topical and important – particularly when it comes to female participation in sports discussion programmes and the featuring of disabled people in sports media. 

And while some participants conceded that local TV drama has shown signs of improvement in recent years – “the present drama has perfect quality”, a male participant said – and that occasionally you would stumble upon an effective bit of acting here and there, the ubiquity of often hollow discussion programmes was another point of contention. 

“Talk, talk, talk. All you need to do is gather a couple of people and have a discussion. Like what we’re doing here. If someone was filming us, we would have a programme,” one participant said, while others described this tendency as a clear sign of the lack of “creativity and innovation” in the field. 

Many of the viewers interviewed for the study – particularly those belonging to an older age bracket – claimed to still watch Maltese TV drama, however criticism also came thick and fast. A persistent issue is that TV drama tends to “drag” in comparison to its international competition, suggesting that the lack of professional training in scriptwriting is finally becoming evident. 

“When the story is supposed to go to the end they stretch it out for one more year and go to the past,” one participant said. “So, they are on the right path, they are promising you everything and then – oops! And that’s where quality suffers.” 

Another participant complained of an excess of “depressive” elements in Maltese drama, while another described the bulk of them as being repetitive.

“Often, from year to year, the topics are the same. For example, some time during the year we have programmes on drugs, people who were ill, some politician who argued with his party… always the same.” 

However, while the discussion on what constitutes quality drama is bound to be complex and subjective, criticism of news anchors and talk show presenters was far more straightforward. Participants complained of a lack of charisma among local news anchors, who when compared to their international counterparts – Sky News was mentioned in particular – came across as “lifeless” and “stiff”. 

A similar lack of polish was also noted among sports commentators, with some participants even confessing to watching football matches on foreign channels so as to avoid local commentators, whom they consider to be sub-par. On the subject of sports media, participants took umbrage at the lack of diversity in the field: both in terms of gender balance and the presence of disabled people. 

“I used to dance, but it was never televised,” one disabled participant said. “I know someone who’s a professional at this, and does wheelchair dancing. He makes a positive name for Malta wherever he goes, and yet in Malta no one knows about him. It’s not fair!”

But this issue aside, many participants were willing to forgive some of the shortcomings of Maltese television on a financial basis. Quality, they argued, would be more easy to ensure if programmes had bigger budgets at their disposal. And while some participants accepted advertising as a fair trade-off in this situation, many also complained about the ‘quality’ of the adverts in question, finding pop-up adverts particularly annoying.  

Curiously, however, nowhere in the report is quality ever equated to pure aesthetic appreciation of a given programme or show. Rather, it is always discussed in terms of technical proficiency or the given programme’s ability to educate or inform… a pragmatic tendency that seems worthy of a separate study in and of itself. 

Additionally, Clark and Spiteri stick to just Geoff Mulgan’s characterisation of quality as being that which “the majority of people enjoy” while dismissing contrary views as ‘elitist’. This is a somewhat disconcerting move, since quality could also account for the bare bones mechanics of even the most populist of TV genres, and as such can be seen as being neutral to notions of social elitism.