Eye Box

Keeping a critical eye on the world of TV and film

The Wire BBC2 debut is too late for many

with 15 comments

The Wire premiered on BBC2 yesterday… but many couldn’t stay awake to see it. Without securing iPlayer rights for the show, the question of editorial policy must be raised.

So, The Wire, the Greatest Show of All-Time according to critics all over place, debuted yesterday on BBC2. When it was first announced, I was so relieved that I wasn’t going to have to fork out the better part of £100 to buy box-sets of all six series that I didn’t stop to consider an old problem with US imports on the Beeb which is threatening to spoil my childlike excitement.

What I’m referring is the 11.20pm start time. Every weekday. Yesterday I had no problems staying the full hour but I can see the novelty quickly wearing thin. Friday nights are almost definitely out.

But that shouldn’t be problem now that BBC iPlayer exists, right? Wrong. They can’t secure rights. And believe me, this has not gone down well online. These are a small selection of comments on the BBC messageboards today:

Dominicokey1 said: “11.20 is way too late for me on a week night, but ending at past midnight is even worse… COME ON, PUT IT ON iPLAYER” [sic]; Bertie said: “It is outrageous that such a much-trumpeted show is a) On at such a ridiculous hour and b) That it is not available to non night-owls via iplayer.” Etc etc. In short, people have been waiting a long time for terrestrial Wire and they are not happy.

The issue at hand is the right to show on-demand content. Senior Editorial Manager for BBC iPlayer Jonathan Murphy immediately blogged to explain the situation (proving how hot a topic it had become). He wrote:

“This is down to the thorny issue of Rights. Much of our programming is made or commissioned by the BBC giving us the “primary rights”, including the right to make it available on iPlayer and all its various platforms (PC, TV, mobile, games devices). However, in some cases, the BBC will buy in material, where the primary rights may be held by big international commercial organisations – in this case, it’s the cable broadcaster HBO.”

And Murphy is correct: rights are a “thorny” issue. A similar conundrum affects the Beeb’s online showing of Heroes, and, in honesty, they have no power to act. So the question then becomes: Why show the programme so late? Last night’s viewing figures were a strong 600,000 (8% of overall share) but this is likely to tail off quickly unless the show is brought forward, or repeated at an earlier hour on BBC3.

I don’t know if it is an editorial policy of BBC schedulers but they always seem to air top-draw American imports at really strange, late hours. The list is startling: Seinfeld (see this 2001 Neil Perry Guardian post), Family Guy (never on earlier than 11pm on BB3) and Arrested Development (see these irate fans rantings for proof). Hopefully, I’ll be able to speak to someone at the Beeb tomorrow and get some kind of answer.

Eds note: I’m going to post a podcast about this up tomorrow, where myself and Ali Plumb (my co-News Ed at Tell! Magazine) will be reprising our Newsdump roles for new format Teledump. Also look out for an appearance from fellow City journalist Nick Johnstone.


Written by jessewhittock

March 31, 2009 at 9:24 pm

15 Responses

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  1. Was just thinking the same: Had planned to try and double bill the Wire tonight, as I missed last night’s. iPlayer has rained on my parade, and now I’m thinking about reading the synopsis of ep.1 and then watching ep.2. But then what’s the point: I won’t manage to watch every night anyway!
    It’s amazing how quickly we have come to expect on-demand tv as the norm – I remember when we had to get a video recorder set up – and I remember the night Dad recorded over the end of my Jonathan Creek with the cricket highlights!


    March 31, 2009 at 9:52 pm

  2. When else could it be aired?

    You can’t move Newsnight, so the only other timeslot available is 9:30PM. You can’t show content with very strong language (which the Wire has, in spades) shortly after the watershed by law.

    There’s no other alternative slot on BBC 2.

    The Phazer

    March 31, 2009 at 10:14 pm

  3. Are we *owed* prime time slots for these top-draw American imports? Maybe not, but I think the mega-hype surrounding the Wire would justify an earlier showing time.

    In truth, all I really want to add is another BBC comment board-style complaint:

    “wanted to get addicted the Wire – now I can’t because it’s on at the wrong time”


    March 31, 2009 at 10:16 pm

  4. Ruth: I still love my VHS; got an old Ali G Show episode which I bring out once in a while for the nostalgia factor.

    The Phazer: Fair points all, but what about some kind of BBC3 repeat at a reasonable time.

    Alternatively, BBC Blog Editor Dave Lee as been tweeting that if we make enough noise they might fork out for a licence for iPlayer rights from HBO. They pay Jonathan Ross enough, so no question of money. What do you think?


    March 31, 2009 at 10:21 pm

  5. “Fair points all, but what about some kind of BBC3 repeat at a reasonable time.”

    Such a repeat still has to be 10pm+. It wouldn’t make much difference. And I don’t see that the show remotely fits BBC 3’s remit, or that the cost would be justified.

    “Alternatively, BBC Blog Editor Dave Lee as been tweeting that if we make enough noise they might fork out for a licence for iPlayer rights from HBO.”

    I don’t see anything on Dave’s tweets that suggests anything of the kind.

    “They pay Jonathan Ross enough, so no question of money.”

    Jonathan Ross’s deal was basically lied about by the national press, and his show makes money for the BBC through international sales. This is a repeat of a very old American show. It is not a good use of the licence fee to spend any significant amount of money on it, and it may be that HBO wouldn’t even entertain any bid unless it was literally ludicrous amounts. It may even not be about money (for example, no HBO show has ever been on iPlayer. They might demand Windows only DRM or somesuch). Nobody knows.

    The Phazer

    March 31, 2009 at 11:50 pm

  6. Jack Bauer wouldn’t stand for this shit.


    April 1, 2009 at 12:31 am

  7. Phaser: This is from Dave Lee’s Twitter,

    “@louisebolotin NO! Say you won’t buy the box set because of it not being on iPlayer… pressure people, pressure!
    about 17 hours ago from web in reply to louisebolotin”

    Perhaps he doesn’t mean to pressure the Beeb for iPlayer rights, but the “pressure people, pressure” line certainly seems like he does. If not, this once again backs up how rubbish and misleading Twitter can be.

    And I don’t think you’re going to sell anyone that JR’s BBC deal was in any way fair. How do you mean it was lied about? The figures are real; It wasn’t a fair use of licence payers cash.


    April 1, 2009 at 10:20 am

  8. On another note shame on the BBC acquisitions team, Five’s and Channel 4’s too.

    How could “the best TV show ever made” be overlooked for so many years.

    I do think it is great that it is on terrestrial but 6 years to late… and since I forked out £100 for the DVD’s I am bitter about it.


    April 1, 2009 at 10:54 am

    • Stringer: I was about two milliseconds away from forking out before the announcement was made last month.


      April 1, 2009 at 11:34 am

  9. The BBC have really missed a trick here by not securing the rights to show The Wire on iPlayer. If iPlayer wants to continue getting a good reutation, it needs to have the most popular programs available. Not just re-runs of old programmes.

    John Sunyer

    April 1, 2009 at 11:16 am

  10. “Perhaps he doesn’t mean to pressure the Beeb for iPlayer rights, but the “pressure people, pressure” line certainly seems like he does.”

    I would suggest it pretty clearly refers to pressuring HBO in context. No doubt because he doesn’t want the BBC’s rights team to make him discover the exact current layout of a P-45.

    It’s still wrong of course – a collapse in DVD sales would just as likely just make HBO think they shouldn’t sell any shows to terrestrial broadcasters in the first place.

    “And I don’t think you’re going to sell anyone that JR’s BBC deal was in any way fair. How do you mean it was lied about? The figures are real; It wasn’t a fair use of licence payers cash.”

    They weren’t real. They were to Ross’s production company, not Ross, and pay for making the show as well. Which means the show per hour is, in fact, below average cost wise for it’s slot according to bbc.co.uk/commissioning.

    The Phazer

    April 1, 2009 at 11:58 pm

  11. Is that really the kind of thing that would get someone fired? He’s not exactly calling for public service revolution. But if he’s talking HBO, again, fair enough.

    I think the five per week set up will, in fact, cause more people to end up buying the DVDs: they’ll get a taste for it and then miss three or four, leading them to take the plunge and by the boxset.

    Don’t think it makes any difference whether the £18m all went into JRs pocket or not; it’s simply too much to pay for one person. It’s not what the BBC is meant to be about.


    April 2, 2009 at 2:57 pm

  12. […] is just to say a quick thank you to the BBC Blogs editorial team who linked my post on The Wire, brought a lot of new people to my blog, and to the Blogs of the Day wordpress blog, which ranked […]

  13. I enjoy the programme ‘Medium’ the name put me off for many years and now two episodes are being shown from the start on BBC 2 at 1.30 in the morning. I haven’t missed an episode, do you know why because I have a digital TV recorder and I set it to record ‘series’ hey presto. You guys really need to join the 21st century.


    May 2, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    i mean i only watch it for tritan wilds and the other boys but you know i still love it any way you should put it on 7 days a week (Y) you’ve got me hooked on it !!
    im addicted and if i know im going to miss it i just record it on my sky+ 😀

    sophie berry

    August 15, 2009 at 9:36 pm

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