Tag: tv

Why Does the British Media Cover News Better than American Media?

Over the past year, I’ve found myself paying attention to British media and have just about completely tuned out the American media.  The only news show I watch is BBC World News America.  I read the Economist, look at BBC.com, the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times and The Guardian.  I probably watch BBC America 2-3 times per week and check the other papers daily.

I can’t remember that last time I watched any American tv news program or read an American newspaper (for anything other than a sports story) on my own.  The only times I’ve read the American press is when someone sends me a link to a story.  Most of the time, the stories in the American press are simplistic, boring and cliche.  There is little analysis and the writer doesn’t seem to understand the story himself.  The only interesting stories are the investigative reports.

TV news is arguably worse.  Network news is ok, but generally focuses on celebrity or partisan bickering, rather than actual issues.  Cable “news” is an affront to the word news and most of the time local news isn’t all that interesting.

It seems to me that the British press is better at covering just about everything than the American media.  From American politics to climate change, from sport to finance and international affairs, all of the mainstream British media seems to do a better job the their American counterparts.  BBC World News America recently featured a 10 minute segment on the US military strategy in Afghanistan, including a 5 minute segment with a journalist going out on patrol with an American unit.  I learned more in 10 minutes than in the previous three months listening to politicians and commentators yammer on or reading American news articles.

I read an article in the Telegraph today about the economy and the potential for a further deterioration in 2010.  I actually learned something from it.  I rarely get anything out of the NY Times or Wall St. Journal when I read it.  Both publications slant one way or the other and have a specific viewpoint they want to get across.  They rarely focus on stories that do not fit the narrative.  I’ve found the British press to be less beholden to their narrative than the American press.

This problem extends all the way to NPR programming, too.  Although NPR stories are more in depth, they do not present nearly as much information as a BBC radio story.  I think the British media believes that its readers actually are intelligent, whereas the American media believes that it has to tell a narrative and present to the lowest common denominator.

This phenomenon extends past the media and manifests itself for anyone to see in TV programming.  British soccer commentators talk 50% as much as their American counterparts in any sport.  British versions of Ramasy’s Kitchen Nightmares, Life on Mars, Dragon’s Den (Shark Tank in the US) and American Idol give the viewer the ability to think for themselves.  In the American version, there are always sounds and music playing in the background, trying to hit the viewers over the head with the point the producers want to get across.  If you get a chance, check out any show on BBC America and listen to how little background noise/music there is.

Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares is the best example.  The original British version shows Gordon Ramsay helping turn a struggling restaurant around.  He dines, talks with the chef, owner and waitstaff and then revamps the menu, teaches the chef some business skills and relaunches the restaurant.  It is interesting because he focuses on the business side of running a restaurant.  From buying cheap ingredients to when to be open to how to hire waitstaff, Ramsay teaches you how to run a successful restaurant.

In the American version, the kitchen is usually incredibly dirty, the restaurant owner does not want to listen to any advice and Ramsay’s team ends up completely redesigning the restaurant from scratch.  They probably spent 20k making it happen.  There is music in the background and always personality conflicts.  It’s nowhere as interesting as the British version.

It seems like producers have decided that Americans have no attention span and cannot figure anything out for themselves, whereas the British are allowed to think for themselves and can pay attention for a full 10 minutes.  I’m thankful for cable and the Internet so that I have a choice to watch foreign programming and read international news.  I’m not sure what I would do otherwise.

What do you think?  Do you pay attention to the American media?  Do you pay attention to British media or none at all?  Have you watched any British TV and noticed a similar phenomenon?

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Black Friday: Advertising Thoughts

It’s been awhile since I wrote about advertising, so seeing as it’s Black Friday and millions of Americans woke up early (or stayed up all night) to go shopping at ungodly hours, I thought I’d write a little about some of the current campaigns that motivated Americans to shop.  First, the bad.

AT&T has been in a battle with Verizon for mobile phone dominance for the past few years.  Verizon still has more subscribers and a bigger network, although AT&T has closed the gap and even taken the lead in some areas.  AT&T’s launch of the iPhone has been a huge boost for AT&T, but lately Verizon has been hitting back.  They launched a commercial that shows two maps of the US, one showing Verizon’s 3G coverage and the other showing AT&T’s 3G coverage.

ATT&T wrote an open letter trying to explain the situation, but they also created their own commercial to show that they too offer service in most of America.  It sounds like a good idea, but for me, the commercial fails.  It opens with Luke Wilson standing on a map of America saying that he got postcards from people all over the US who are able to use AT&T’s network.  Wilson reads off tons of cities and tosses the postcards where the cities are on the map.  Pretty soon, the entire map is covered in postcards.  It might be a cool idea, but they picked Luke Wilson.  As the viewer, I immediately think, “why couldn’t you get Owen Wilson?”  Is AT&T really the second most famous Wilson brother and Verizon is Owen, the big movie star?  It’s almost too perfect since AT&T is playing second fiddle to Verizon and had enough of an inferiority complex to respond to Verizon’s national 3G coverage map with an open letter to consumers.  At least they didn’t pick Andrew Wilson to be their spokespan.  Then people would think they were US Cellular.


Sears has always had fairly tame advertisements around the holidays an this year isn’t any different.  Their ads are actually fairly good until the end, when they show their 2009 Christmas slogan.  Their slogan is “More Values, More Christmas.”  It hardly seems right to equate buying more things with more Christmas.  Wal-Mart does the same thing with their slogan “Christmas Costs Less at Wal-Mart.”  It seems wrong to me to equate being able to buy more things with “more Christmas.”  I’m not even going at this from religious perspective, simply a materialistic one.  Both stores are equating buying more things with being happier.  It’s a good message for the stores’ bottom line, but not for everyone else.

Finally, the last of the bad.  Kopps Custard, a local institution in the Milwaukee area used to have a billboard on I43 that showed the flavor of the day.  It let you know if you should take a right turn when you got off the highway or continue to your destination.  If it was a good flavor, you got off and got custard.  If it was bad, you continued on.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve stopped because the billboard showed Tiramisu, Chocolate Peanut Butter Chocolate or Grasshopper Fudge.  It was a great ad because it motivated people to change behavior and buy.  You can now follow Kopps on Twitter, but it’s just not the same.

Now, onto the good.  This year, Best Buy sent out their Black Friday circular in newspapers around the country, just like they did in other years.  The only difference was that in heavily Muslim areas, they included a bubble at the top that said “Happy Eid Al Ahda.” Eid Al Ahda is a holiday celebrated by Muslims that runs from Friday until Sunday.  Predictably, Best Buy’s decision has drawn criticism from some right wing Christians, including some who want to boycott the store.  I think this is yet another manufactured issue and commend Best Buy for using some innovative marketing to try to tap into an underrepresented market.  As an aside, I also laugh at companies that refuse to mention Christmas in their holiday ads.

Happy Thanksgiving and if you are shopping today, good luck finding those deals.  Remember, door busters don’t mean that you should literally bust the door down.

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