The popularity of heritage as a significant niche programming strand is evident, especially if heritage is considered in its widest sense as covering what has been passed on from previous generations in whatever form, as artefacts, photographs, art, archaeological sites or landscapes. The dominance of antiques programmes and ancient civilizations, particularly those in docu-drama form, perhaps supports recent arguments that viewers are drawn towards content that provides the ‘affect’ of excitement, the ‘exotic’ and ‘spectacular’ and the possibility of encountering the unexpected (Hill 2005; King 2005; Piccini in press). The popularity also of programmes that deal with the local and with landscapes, eg, Coast, or with the local social histories of people, eg, The Lost World of Friese-Greene, indicates the impact of the ‘power of place’. For all the criticism that archaeologists and historians may level at dramatisations like Rome, they are undeniably more popular than conventional voice-over documentaries. These factors suggest that not only do viewers want the people putting back into the past, and a human story to bring the past to life, but also the immediacy of spectacle that makes heritage something to welcome into their living rooms.
The social background of viewers is complex. More disadvantaged social groups are clearly engaged with TV heritage and television appears to be a major source of information about heritage for those without computer access. This significant viewership contrasts with museum and heritage site visiting profiles: the Heritage Counts research itself and academic work in this area has repeatedly demonstrated that disadvantaged social groups are the least likely museum and heritage visitors (eg, Bourdieu 1979; Macdonald and Fyfe 1996; Merriman 1992; Piccini 1999). This specific contrast between television watching and museum and heritage site visiting is significant and requires further analysis. An obvious explanation may be that television watching is a different order of activity than heritage visiting. Put simply, do people watch heritage television in order to acquire information about the past, or is it the thrill of the spectacular, or is it a form of virtual tourism? It is very likely to be a combination of factors that will differ across audiences.
Furthermore, it is of significant interest that young adults and visible ethnic minorities are significantly under-represented amongst heritage TV viewers, as they are amongst visitors to historic environment sites. This is clearly more complex than ‘social exclusion’. Again, substantial research in this area is likely to throw light on the reasons for the lack of viewers and may point towards strategies to attract steady and consistent audiences among these two groups. The work of the HLF-funded Opening the Doors project (www.youngpeopleandmuseums.org.uk), which has looked at museum use by young people outside of formal education and by young asylum seekers, may contribute to future research. While heritage television has not succeeded in engaging young people, it is notable that the growth of both drama-based and factual crime forensics television has led to a sharp increase in the number of young people enrolling on undergraduate forensics courses (Lemaine 2004). Are there perhaps lessons to be learned from one of archaeology’s more high-profile cousins?
Television is a major source of contact with heritage for many people and can do much to bring about a more active engagement for some, for example through the BBC’s Restoration series. While significant existing audiences should be catered for via proven genres, the data suggests that humorous approaches to heritage and docu-dramas are particularly popular with a wider spread of audiences than is attracted to the more serious end of the factual genre.
|6.30pm, 19.6.05||6pm, 26.3.06|
Table 9: Time Team, C4 transmission data
|8.00pm, 5.8.05||3pm, 10.3.06|
Table 10: A History of Britain, UKTV transmission data
- CBA History
- Support Us