Reputation matters in every medium, but with the explosion of digital TV, as well as online streaming services, it is particularly important for broadcasters. As the number of channels increases, so do the options for advertising – a market which continues to fragment. Because the choice is so wide, upsetting viewers with mistakes, inappropriate content or insensitive programming risk both viewers and advertisers going elsewhere.
For this reason the Ofcom list of most-complained-about TV shows is closely read by advertisers and broadcasters alike, and the same names keep cropping up – the top ten of the last few years reads like a list of the usual suspects:
1. Big Brother
Channel 5's reality show and its celebrity counterpart has received more complaints than any other show in the last three years. In 2014, almost 4,000 people complained to broadcasting regulator Ofcom over the behaviour of the ultimate winner, Helen Wood, who was accused of bullying fellow contestants.
2. The Wright Stuff
More than 2,200 people complained in 2011 when Matthew Wright made jokes on the Channel 5 show while discussing the murder of teenager Liam Atchison.
3. Cutting Edge: Going to the Dogs
Channel 4's 2014 investigation into dogfighting upset many viewers. More than 1,800 people complained over the graphic scenes of dogs fighting which were filmed undercover.
4. Benefits Street
Channel 4's documentary series following the lives of residents of a poor part of Birmingham in 2014 provoked the ire of almost 1,000 viewers who thought that the show vilified benefits claimants.
5. Dancing on Ice
In 2011, Ofcom received 784 complaints that the presenter, Jason Gardiner, had made offensive comments about contestant Johnson Beharry and to head coach Karen Barber.
6. The One Show
Jeremy Clarkson has revelled in courting controversy in recent years, but his 2011 comments on the BBC1 show, that public sector strikers should be executed and that trains should not be delayed by people who commit suicide resulted in 763 complaints to Ofcom.
7. Comic Relief
Rowan Atkinson's 2013 sketch as the Archbishop of Canterbury did not go down well with 487 viewers. Following the BBC1 show, 487 people complained to Ofcom that jokes stating prayer "doesn't work" and that "love thy neighbour" does not mean "shag thy neighbour" were offensive to Christians.
8. Coronation Street
Britain may be a liberal and tolerant society but that did not stop 367 complaining to Ofcom last year when ITV broadcast a scene where two gay men kissed at the bar of The Rovers Return.
316 people complained about a rape scene in last year's BBC1 broadcast.
43 complaints were received by Ofcom over how a violent beating was portrayed in the ITV soap.
Last year the number of Ofcom complaints was higher than at any time in the last five years. Given that fewer people are watching mainstream television, the Ofcom figures could indicate that the pressure caused by tighter commissioning deadlines and increasing pressure on researchers are behind the growth. Social media may also be playing a role given that anybody upset by something they have seen on television can share that dissatisfaction instantaneously with hundreds, thousands, even millions of others.
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