On the demise of the scheduler


In one of my favourite novels, Jonathan Coe's What a Carve Up!, a TV producer gives this advice:

"Scheduling is everything. A programme stands or falls by its scheduling. Understand that, and you'll already have a march on all the other bright young candidates you'll be competing with."

This is 1969 – no producer would give such advice today. The VCR dented it a bit, but you still had to remember to record programmes. The digital, or personal video recorder, Sky+ and Tivo, were a major blow to the status of the scheduler: now recording was really easy and you could series link whole programmes. But what really did for the scheduler was the internet of course. In the UK we have the BBC's iPlayer, 4 on demand, ITV player, and so on.

All of this is relatively old news, and already we may be complacent about what a monumental shift this represents. I was struck by the force of this liberation from scheduling once again this week. I listen to the radio when I'm working, usually BBC 6music or Radio 4. But often there is a lull in the scheduling, particularly the daytime shows on 6music which have been going a bit Radio 1 of late. But look at the shows available on Radio 4 listen again. No, seriously, go and look at them. It is no exaggeration to say I get a tingle of excitement when I look through this list – where to start? And I can stop them, take a phone call, save up all of the book of the week and listen in one go, mix them in with the hilarious Adam and Joe show from 6music, and so on. Radio as a medium, it seems has flourised under the digital liberation (although, commercial radio would argue differently)

I discover shows I didn't know existed, or would not normally catch. The week starts and I genuinely look forward to catching up on four or five weekend shows. It makes you realise how much good quality content you've missed because of the tyranny of scheduling. I'm not a prime time kinda guy I realise, so the programmes that are on when I am actually watching TV or listening to the radio are exactly the programmes I don't want.

Scheduling, or rather being a consumer of scheduling, is a hard habit to break. I still ask the question 'what's on tonight?', like it's someone else's choice. For my daughter's generation this will be a ridiculous question to ask, it will more likely be 'what are we putting on tonight?'. This may be one of those generational shifts: the schedule slaves and the schedulaly liberated. I'm still coming to terms with it: We are the schedulers now.

Oh, and one thing I want is to be able to create my own page for listen again shows: so I go to the BBC and just 'add to my page' any programme I like listening/watching – I create my own BBC channel – I'm not just the scheduler now, I'm the Director General. (Anything like this on the cards, James?)


  • Brennig Jones

    I’ve been pondering this. For me the radio revolution has been helped by podcasts. I download Adam & Joe, Scott Mills Daily, Best of Moyles. If there was a Radcliffe & McConie I’d get that too. These developments mean I can listen to the bits of the radio output that I want to (i.e. the chat but minus Rhianna or whatever other musically-challenged artists are currently getting airplay). For music output I listen to music podcasts that play my kind of music. It works for me. 🙂

  • Martin

    Hi Brennig, yes I meant to put podcasts in. They were really the big disconnect from the scheduler. Once you could download regularly and create your own playlist of shows you became a scheduler.
    Unfortunately a lot of shows aren’t available as podcast, and when they are, they cut out the music (which, as you say can be a blessing).

  • Carlton

    I think you’re right, Martin, that Any Time media is all rather inevitable but while there are many positive aspects to schedule-less programming, there are some valuable things that we might lose in the process.
    The success of traditional media to date can be largely attributed to its social nature – it is a shared experience, one that can be planned and discussed communally later. The major storylines in soaps like Eastenders have dominated both playground and workplace conversation on the following day – indeed these timetabled events form the basis of much social intercourse. And it is a trend that continues, albeit it in evolved forms. This week’s launch of the Apprentice was the dominate theme on Twitter during the broadcast slot and immediately afterwards.
    There is real importance to these shared events both in terms of the programme value for the producers (who need large audience to justify budgets) and socially for creating common ground.
    The personalisation of media consumption has many benefits but as markets and experiences fragment into ever more individual chunks it will inevitably have an effect on what we share.

  • Martin

    Hi Carlton – you are right, for TV in particular, a good response to this is to try and make ‘event TV’. Sport is an obvious example, but as you say, things like The Apprentice also work. This works really well with a distributed back channel (twitter basically). I blogged last year that The Eurovision song content ( is possibly _the_ twitter/TV event.
    But it’s only going to work for some things, often progs that you want to gossip about, like the two mentioned. Drama can work too (I had a good twitter session while watching Margaret recently). It’s not going to work for everything though.

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