Have you heard of the TV series Breaking Bad? Don’t worry if you’re not overly familiar with the show because it’s not been screened on either terrestrial or satellite TV in the UK for some time. But what’s interesting is that the this US series, now about to enter its final run,is making headlines in the UK even though you can’t watch it here via conventional means. So here’s the question: why is a show we can’t readily watch getting so much positive mainstream media coverage like this and this over here?
First, it’s a damned fine show. This epic tale of a middle-aged chemistry teacher who receives a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer and decides to use his skills to ‘cook’ illegal drugs in order to raise money for his soon to be fatherless family has won a fistful of Emmys. A great cast and razor-sharp script has won fans all over the world — except among UK TV schedulers and programme buyers, it seems.
Second, online TV/film provider Netflix has bought the rights to the final eight episodes of the series to make them available in the UK only hours after they screen in the US. Clearly, Netflix is pumping a lot of pounds into PR-ing this capability and raising awareness of the series to the UK audience.
Third — and most important — it’s proof positive that UK viewers are no longer dependent on either free-to-air terrestrial or paid-for satellite TV for their viewing. With web services like Netflix and LOVEFiLM, the increasingly content-savvy YouTube, season passes from iTunes and a host of semi-legal sites offering the ability to view programmes screened in the US from other parts of the world, UK audiences can get excited about programmes that have never made it to a schedule in this country. I can’t recall any other occasion on which so much media coverage in UK has been devoted to persuading a UK audience to watch a show that’s been out of their reach. Only Netflix’s recent production of the House of Cards comes close — and that’s partly because it was an example of a Brit series being remade for a US audience.
While clearly there’s a element of smart journalists who watch Breaking Bad wanting to show off their agenda-setting good taste and wear their fandom like a badge of honour, the broadcast of the show’s final eight episodes starting 11 August does mark a turning point for UK society and its TV viewing habits. No longer are we tied to the good ol’ Beeb, or ITV or Sky. With our PCs, tablets and gaming devices, we can roam the world looking for high quality content, watching it where and when we choose.
TV content is no longer about what country it comes from, but how good it is. If UK programme buyers and schedulers won’t make these high quality shows available to us, then we’ll make our own arrangements.
More than any other show, Breaking Bad has encouraged UK viewers to cut the cord. Advertisers and TV companies, take note.