Media-and telecom specialist Elfa Ýr Gylfadóttir argued that it was time for consumers to ask themselves how much they were ready to pay for a diverse television system since, because of Iceland’s size, the systems bringing home entertainment were rather ineffective. Because of the question of how to get content to the viewer cost-effectively, the question of what is getting to the viewer seems to be lost in the race. Hence more channels do not mean more information. The role of the media as an informative public service is in danger. Therefore an independent public broadcast medium is still needed.
According to Logi Bergmann, state channel RÚV should be that medium but does not have the financial support necessary to function properly, being a publicly owned service. But is national television supposed to offer the same programs as commercial television? Shouldn’t its appeal be that it is different, there for the people, informing them instead of leading them into numbness and entertainment that is forgotten as soon as you change the channel? As I walked back to my icy car, my thoughts strayed back to who would become America’s next top model.
The Void on RÚV
After unpacking his bags in his hotel room, one of the first things that a visitor to Iceland will do is search for the remote and sample the networks. Knowing that one of the channels is occupied by the state-owned television (RÚV) they decide to linger awhile, beyond the news, to see what RÚV has to offer. They certainly recognize the show that follows. Apart from the subtitles our visitors could easily forget that they’ve arrived in Iceland. The only upcoming Icelandic show won’t be aired until next weekend.
RÚV’s station director Markús Örn Antonsson claims that Icelanders look upon his network as the anchor among the media. No doubt he means that RÚV can be relied on whatever storms may rage. But RÚV may also just be the anchor that keeps the industry stuck in a rut.
Regrettably, RÚV’s management is nervous and not without reason. It knows that its form of ownership is disputed and privatization looms over the horizon. So it uses the most handy and superficial means available to justify its existence in its current form: ratings. It’s driven by the ambition to air, above all, popular shows. It’s competing for audience with the other networks that, incidentally, rely heavily on foreign programming, too. So RÚV has assumed the role of a mere catch-up player. It may attract enough viewers to rank highest on the ratings charts. But having the most popular US show doesn’t say much about RÚV’s merits. And it doesn’t imply real leadership, let alone originality. It’s as simple as that.
Icelanders love RÚV. There is no doubt about that, even with the mandatory subscription fee imposed on anyone who owns a television set in Iceland. However, they would love RÚV even more if it produced high-quality shows, real stuff that could be sold worldwide, bringing back originality and real leadership. And away may even go the subscription fees.