“The Eyes of Britain” were on ITV last night and there wasn’t Simon Cowell to be seen anywhere. The first TV prime ministerial debate was aired at 8.30pm and pulled in 9.4 million viewers; the historic debate was the most watched show of the day and had more viewers than the other four terrestrial channels combined at the time of its broadcast.
ITV further engaged the audience with a phone survey, with the subsequent News At Ten bulletin revealing the results of more than 1,000 viewers. There was also a mass “dial test” on Facebook (which we since learn didn’t actually work) which was due to enable UK users to rate the debates in real time and provide instant feedback on the performance of the three party leaders. This failed to work and Twitter took over as the prime social networking site with its coverage and user feedback, with around 39 tweets a second with 36,000 people tweeting.
It seems that the “great explosion of the blogosphere” did not happen. ITV’s the worm worked however, and saw panellists twiddling their nobs (ahem) to create a rigid line on the screen representing their thoughts and feelings to key responses from the party leaders. Most of the responses from the public – and that of political commentators too – were calling in favour of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg this morning.
The first of three television debates was a ‘dramatic night in TV history’ for ITV (Sky News and BBC debates will air on April 22 and 29) and see their ratings reach the levels of reality shows such as Britain’s Got Talent and major live sporting events. That doesn’t sound like a grand comparison but with these shows drawing in 10 million viewers a week, it puts the debate and ITV in a comfortable position. Alistair Stewart, who chaired and moderated the debate, called it “the pinnacle” of his career and said he had been reading up on the US presidential debates for preparation.
Interestingly, there were no adverts during the entire running of the 90-minute debate and no opening credits to introduce or glam-up the event. The entire production was rather unadorned as the three men stood on stage at the Manchester Granada studios, three coloured strips behind them representing each of the party colours. It’ll be interesting to see how Sky News and the BBC prepare the next two debates. Whether they keep to the simplistic structure of ITV, or if they ‘jazz’ things up?
POLITICS ON TV from source http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/8624737.stm
Election Night – BBC One: 2.38m (5 May 2005)
Tony Blair steps down (Ten O’Clock News) – BBC One: 4.79m (27 June 2007)
President Obama: A Newsnight Special – BBC Two: 1.45m (5 November 2008)
Nick Griffin on Question Time – BBC Two: 8.35m (23 October 2009)
Piers Morgan’s Life Stories: Gordon Brown – ITV1: 4.26m (14 February 2010)
Ask The Chancellors – Channel 4: 1.7m* (29 March 2010)
*Provisional overnight figure
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