Channel 4 (C4) commissioner Kate Quilton (pictured) offered a frank reflection on the failure of the network’s cross-platform doc series Seven Days at Sheffield Doc/Fest today, saying that the key problem with the series was a lack of good stories.
Seven Days aired on C4 last fall and was billed as a new kind of reality series, following the day-to-day lives of residents in London’s Notting Hill, with a quick turnaround timetable that saw episodes on air the week they were filmed.
The Studio Lambert-produced show was heavy on interactive and online elements; however, ratings were poor and after eight episodes the series was canned. Though C4 went out of its way to avoid billing the series as “the new Big Brother,” a heavy marketing campaign meant comparisons in the press were inevitable.
Talking during the “Commissioning for Convergence” session as part of Doc/Fest’s Crossover Summit day, Quilton, C4′s multiplatform commissioner for documentaries and specialist factual, said that although the series had the tagline “a lot can happen in seven days,” a more appropriate tagline would have been “a lot can happen in seven days? Well, no actually, it doesn’t,” to laughs from attendees.
One of the lessons the network learned from the project, she added, was that an “absolutely rigid” or restrictive format can compromise the storytelling. “If you haven’t got a story, no one’s going to watch,” she said. “And although we did find probably the most interesting people in Notting Hill… the stories weren’t really there.”
Elsewhere, technical problems hampered the series. During its first episode, the show’s accompanying website crashed in real-time. This meant that as the on-screen TV episode repeatedly urged viewers to log on to the website, doing so was impossible.
“I had a really painful experience during the first TX,” Quilton recalled, adding that it was obviously a “terrible” launch for both the viewers and the C4 team, the latter of which worked across the board “to make sure that never happens again.”
Making the series “totally highlighted the difference in production timelines between TV and online,” she added, highlighting that one of the biggest issues the team had was “real-time contributor management.”
Nevertheless, Quilton also said that there was much to be proud of in the show. Among the supporting statistics she offered was the fact that 8.2% of viewers who watched on TV went online during or afterwards to interact with the new media elements.
Internally at C4, 5% to 10% is considered great for a show – the grand series finale of Big Brother, for example, got 13.4% of TV viewers logging on.
“It was a really interesting experience,” she reflected. “It was very much a true cross-platform project. Studio Lambert and [interactive producer] Holler hooked up really well, and it was a show that did push the form.”
She added that C4 was not discouraged by the experiment, and was keen to “move along that track” and experiment with more projects that push the envelope interactively.
At the end of the day though, she warned that viewership is still the metric by which projects – interactive or otherwise – will be judged. “The hardest thing was that we all worked really hard,” she said of Seven Days, “but nobody watched it.”