Since the advent of online, television fans have had ways of letting networks know what they think. No more writing letters to newspapers, it’s as easy as logging onto a network website anonymously and speaking your mind.
TV Tonight has been looking at how our networks embrace free and open discussion. Here’s how they stacked up.
Within the ABC site there are individual show pages, many of which have open forums. Shows including Enough Rope, Compass, Can We Help?, At The Movies, Life at 3, Good Game, Media Watch, Spicks and Specks and Sunday Arts all feature messages from viewers, both positive and negative. Some shows like The Hollowmen and Very Small Business didn’t feature a discussion board. The ABC also features a more general message board divided into ABC1, ABC2 and ABC TV Online, but within these there is no clear heirarchy, making it near impossible to find a topic or discussion. Linked by a “Have Your Say” link on the TV homepage, many viewers head straight to the general board, ignoring shows that have specific boards. Some nifty navigation might help send the right comments to the rightful homes, which will only help everyone in the long run. Grade: B
Seven has separate messageboards for key shows, which operate on a “last post first” basis per show. As part of the Yahoo brand, it requires contributors to have a Yahoo ID. A number of posts have been deleted for “breach of service” along with some complaints by users that their negative comments have been removed. That said, there are still plenty of negative and positive posts. Sunrise’s very-developed website appears to include discussion mostly for specific topics such as “Why can’t women break the glass ceiling?” and “Are we a nation of cheapskates?” The show’s personalities have individual blogs with reader comments, with a handful of comments, which were overwhelmingly positive. The Morning Show‘s only comments were so old they wished the presenters “good luck with the new show.” On Dancing with the Stars readers were unhappy with “racist comments” by Sonia Kruger. Prison Break fans are angry over the show resting for 3 weeks. Today Tonight’s site invites feedback, but doesn’t appear to publish it, not even allowing discussion on its most recent stories. For programmes without a dedicated forum, viewers are sent to a Yahoo messageboard for television which even includes forums for Australian Idol and Big Brother. GRADE: C
Nine’s site is desperately in need of a makeover. There is one gigantic discussion board expected to support almost all of its brands. Only 8 shows are listed with unique forums -the rest are lumbered into a general discussion, again making it nigh on impossible to track any conversation. Right now popular topics include complaints about the absence of Fringe and questions over the return of McLeod’s Daughters. The 9HD forum is exploding with complaints. 60 Minutes dedicated blog welcomes comments on its stories, but The Today show site has no viewer input visible. Kerri-Anne Kennerley has added a blog on her own site, but there is no reader contribution element either. A Current Affair story comments are attached to a video -very hard to find. The Nine News site, in conjunction with MSN, allows comments on certain news stories. The overall impression of inviting viewer input, is that it is currently very far down Nine’s priority list. GRADE: D.
TEN has a single messageboard for most of its shows, with a long title list allowing comments. Popular threads include a call for Burn Notice to return. Supernatural is popular. There is even a section to ask a TEN moderator questions. Like Nine, the TEN HD forum indicates lots of confusion. Other shows have dedicated sites / messageboards including 9am with David and Kim, So You Think You Can Dance, Neighbours, Australian Idol and 90210 -lots of calls for the latter to return. Rove’s site is devoid of any comments. Generally speaking, the TEN board appears to function with some order and focus. For a network with younger viewers it’s just as well. GRADE: B+.
Key SBS shows have their own site and forums including First Australians, Global Village, My Generation, The Circuit, Insight, Dateline and more. But there is no general messageboard, meaning if the show isn’t listed comment isn’t invited. With just 14 titles listed (including radio) this leaves too many shows on the outer. Mythbusters forum link didn’t work. There is no place to discuss Top Gear Australia (TV Tonight has previously reported SBS doesn’t have copyright to run these over the TGA magazine). Bogan Pride invites no comment -a spokesperson recently told TV Tonight comments would return once abuse had been cleaned up. It hasn’t. As yet no comments for Swift and Shift Couriers have been published. And the Newstopia forum appears to be so unmoderated as to include some comments full of obscenity and racial vilification. For SBS this is unacceptable. GRADE: D.
Foxtel parcels any viewer interaction off to separate channels, many of which are separately managed. But in doing this it sidesteps the need for a general viewer messageboard too. Where do viewers post comments on subscription fees, new channels, upgrades or customer service? They appear to be unwelcome. A few channels have excellent messageboards including Arena, W Channel, Channel [V] and Sci Fi. The History Channel’s forum didn’t load. Others including FOX Sports and Sky News are either non-existent or useless. Some individual shows also feature good forums including Australia’s Next Top Model and Football Superstar. But all Crime Investigation Australia offered was a poll. With so many channels and shows it was impossible to check them all, but Pay TV appears to have both top and bottom of the class players. It really needs a general subscriber’s forum pronto. GRADE: C.
Running an effective messageboard for a television show clearly requires not just good design and navigation, but ongoing attention, including moderation. Some sites are clearly under-resourced when it comes to such support. The best ones are simple to find and participate in, with a clear balance of positive and critical commentary.
If you’ve had an experience in adding comment to a network show, feel free to share your thoughts. And as with any website, remember to abide by conditions of use (refer footer!).