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Friday, December 29, 2006

Has The Hour Lost Its Relevance?

With the end of the year looming, and in light of the heated discussions that have been taking place on this site, I think this may be the ideal time to re-evaluate the significance of The Hour in our lives.

Personally, and sadly, for me, the show is no longer a factor in my daily existence. This is primarily a function of the unfortunate scheduling changes that The Hour has undertaken this season, but even disregarding that factor, I have been hearing cries of discontent regarding changes to the format itself.

One of the primary complaints seems to be the disconnect with the viewing audience. With the show moving to a taped format, one level of communication with viewers, the real time response to emails, has been removed. Although the show is now taped in front of a live audience, it seems strangely removed from the immediacy that was once such a vibrant part of the show's fabric. The (admittedly) few times I have been able to watch the show this year, the presence of an audience did not seem to add any degree of life to the show. Rather, their presence had no more impact on the show than a laugh track would provide. In contrast to past seasons, where the addition of an audience for special occasions, most particularly when the show went on the road, added a real spark and a real connection to the Canadian public, the presence of a daily audience now feels mundane and, I'm sorry to say, a trifle pointless.

The website, which appears to have been an integral part of the show's function since its inception, continues to post daily video clips and this year has included a complete download of the previous day's show. And this of course begs the question, is the website enhancing The Hour's presence on television or it is actually replacing the show? Does having the entire episode available on-line in fact increase the overall audience numbers, or is download viewing simply cannibalizing the existing audience?

When The Hour first aired, it was unique in its presentation of rapid-fire short snippets in amongst lengthier and more indepth stories. All these seemingly disparate parts flowed into a surprisingly uniform and seamless show. But with some of us being turned off the show by scheduling inequities, others choosing to watch only those video clips of immediate interest on the website, is The Hour as an entity still fulfilling a need of the Canadian public?

With the rise of YouTube culture and the collective shrinking of the human attention span, can we even sustain an hour long (well in reality, 40 minutes) daily program of this nature? Or will we one day be reduced to simply watching a series of video clips on the website?

- Barbara B

45 comments:

Todd said...

Over the past while, there have been concerns, comments, and general rants abou the increasing presence of Television online. The YouTube phenomena does seem to be taking over - it was just the other day when I began to wonder how long cable tv would exist when television stations culd always just stream all of their shows directly from their websites.

The one part of this post that I found interesting was at the end when you commented on the shrinking attention span and being reduced to watching clips online. I found it interesting because we have already been reduced to watching clips on tv, instead of real news with content. News programs have already shifted to maximize their segments, many stories not even making it past 30seconds of air time. So is there a real difference? Is it really a matter of another reduction of media, or is it a way for people to watch those same clips, but skip the stuff they don't care about?

Also, I agree about the live studio audience, I find them kind of annoying - as you said, they fulfill the role of a laugh track - no more. Too bad really.

Barbara said...

The Hour online is a neat feature of the website but to me it's a last resort if I miss the 8pm or the 11pm rebroadcast. It would not be my first choice in how I watch anything. On my own blog I put a link to the 'Youtube Nation' song but I am as much a part of that nation as any other 'nation' in this great nation of ours. I like watching my CBC on TV while curled up on the couch not sitting at my computer desk.
As the Media tries new ways to evolve and interact with the ever evolving and distracted audience I can see why the CBC is experimenting with this show. That is why feedback is key in my opinion. Has it lost it relevance? Maybe the relevance is relative, maybe it's blurred...
I have been very entertained by the content this season so I will be the last to complain about that.
I wish it was still live and I wish it would go back out on the road.
I really enjoy going to the show but it's only available to people who can make it to Toronto on the days it tapes. We go there to enjoy the live experience and the laughs are genuine. Sorry 'we' don't add anything to the TV or online viewers experience, it's a personal experience.
The Strombo radio show on Sunday nights (9pm EST) on CFRB and CJAD offers people a chance to interact live with George as you listen online or via the radio. You can call, email or comment on his myspace and he reads some of those out. It's something more and more of us are doing online together while interacting with each other. George works more often than not 6 days a week and doing a radio show is more a labour of love than something he has to do. It's that interaction thing working both ways. The Strombo radio show will be live again not this Sunday but next...
Thanks again for your thoughts on this Barbara B.

Anonymous said...

Barb W. - I think that is a good point about the CBC experimenting with viewing format, being aware that younger viewers prefer being interactive i.e YouTube. I read though that the bulk of the audience is between 35 and 49 (and up). For those who are able to be in attendance at the studio they have the opportunity to experience the show with a new impression or perception.
I find I don't watch the Hour on-line much as the viewing experience is less concentrated.

I do miss the earlier seasons when the show seemed less 'rehearsed' or commercialized somehow and more spontaneous. Barb W. for example made a point about real time response through the reading of e-
mails.

Food for thought !

Amy

Anonymous said...

Sorry - meant Barb B. last para. -
thanks Barb(s)

Amy

Anonymous said...

when will the strombo show have podcasts for downloads? haven't listened in ages.

Tammy

Barbara Bruederlin said...

What you say is true, Todd, in that news programs do increasingly utilize clips, but I think the difference between watching a series of clips strung together by commentary via a new programs and simply cherry-picking clips that ones wants to watch online, is that in the news program the selection of content is made for consumption by a larger audience. Watching alone online, one can pick and choose the content. I'm not saying that broadcasters neccesarily chose the most appropriate content, but they are trained in presenting the news. I personally believe that most Canadian broadcasters do a laudable job in presenting the whole picture.
The addition of a studio audience on a daily basis has somehow removed that extra zest that an audience used to add to the show back when it was a special occasion. Familiarity breeds boredom, I guess.

I would prefer to watch the Hour on the couch in real time with a group of people with whom to discuss the issues as well, Barbara W. And I find removing that option has, for me anyway, removed most of the appeal of the show.
Having attended a taping of the Hour as well, I do agree that they are great fun to attend, but that does not translate onto the televised version, not on a daily basis anyway.

I agree that watching the online version is less appealing than watching on television, Amy. I think there are a number of factors at play here - the smaller screen (1x1"), the lack of company with whom to discuss the issues, the lack of a designated time at which to watch the program (and we all know how easy it is to put something off if we have the option).
From what I have seen, there does seem to be less spontaneity than in previous seasons, and a large part of that spontaneity was the real-time reading of emails, which had the added bonus of allowing people to feel a greater part of the program.

Tammy, I'm sorry, I know nothing about the Strombo show. I'm sure someone else can weigh in with that info.

Anonymous said...

Tammy,

George and the fellas say podcasting of the radio show is coming...it was suggested that people let CFRB in Toronto (or I guess CJAD in Montreal) know there is a demand for it. We have homework to do! Try this:

cfrbcomments@cfrb.com

Allison said...

Barb,
Excellent post. I have much to say, but shall come back later when I have more than five minutes.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Thanks for the info, Anony! There you go, Tammy - nothing set up yet, but the buzz is happening.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts, Allison, which I'm sure will be as illuminating as always.

Barbara said...

Tammy, George keeps saying the podcast is coming... He mentioned it agin last show before Christmas. I think writing in to the station is working...

Lauren said...

watching something on television has a certain mystery to it, a certain intimacy as well. The hum of the television behind everything, the brightness of the picture, even taping it doesn't work well.

I can't speak for a PVR, of course, I won't be owning one for a long, long time. Money.

When you are at the computer there is more of a distraction, the sounds are different, the fan kicks in, distracts you, the screen size is smaller, as many have said, and streaming isn't perfect.

And you k now that even though you are alone, somehow you are connected to thousands of other people out there who are watching at the same time. It's communal without being in that large group.

On the internet, you're not as connected. It's just... different. You can't ease back and stare out into the living room. Your vision is narrowed, focused, when staring at the computer screen.

As for The Hour itself, yes there is a difference in the feel, it seems less intimate, George has an audience and is not just looking into the camera at me.

But that's not my real issue. See, I feel that some bits are forced. They're gags, filler, and not really the point of enlightening me to the world.

He's funny enough on his own, GS doesn't need to force through some gag. He just has to comment, use his wit.

If the Hour were like watching George give a talk to an audience, it would always be great. Because he's not scripting, he's just him. That is what is so exciting about him. And when he does an interview, he goes off the scheduled path, he can engage poeople.

The he and Pual do a bit, and GS looks awkward.

The medium is find, the effort is flawed.

I rambled. I'll stop now.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

No, you're not rambling at all, Lauren. You make some very valid, very strong points. There is indeed a real palpable difference to watching something on tv (not taped) as opposed to online, and not simply in the fact that tv is more easily watched in the company of others, as opposed to online viewing. As you stated, the very act of watching something at the ssme time as thousands of others somehow brings a sense of community to the experience.

And while I have not watched the Hour enough this year to comment on the use of gags, fillers, etc, it is true that George is at his best when he improvises. Having seen him give a lecture as well, I can attest that he excels when given free reins on topics and to engage the audience in his talk. Following a script seems to stifle that connection.

Anonymous said...

Lauren/BB - I can quite appeciate Paul for being amusing in his own right, but the comedic style openers or skits during the show alter the flow and feel over-scripted. The show has been flowered-up this season from the opening song to the flashy graphics but the choice of guests has pretty much excelled.

To cap it off, GS can play a mean piano!


Amy

Allison said...

Barb, like you, I haven't been watching The Hour much this year. And when I do tune in I find this 'filler' to be not only distracting, but almost a slap in the face to the viewers who turn to the program for actual news. And I know that they are trying to make a shift to 'factual news' or whatever they are calling it these days, but I think this goes into your question of relevancy. Perhaps with the advent of YouTube, etc and so many credible news sources turning to these channels for clips, have they in turn become a copy of YouTube, and YouTube now the news?

I don't want gags and fillers when I turn on the television, I can find that on my own. And yes, some people can't, which is the reason, as well as staying 'in the now', but I don't know, something just feels off now, and I can't help thinking about your point of the live audience being like a sitcom laugh track. Do we want the news to have a laugh track?

I don't think I answered your question at all, mainly my own little rant. Sorry if it was off topic. Thank-you for writing this post, what an excellent way to end 2006 Barb, I tip my hat to you.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

From what you describe, Amy, it sounds as though the show is starting to morph into what I had most feared when I first heard the words "late night info-news" (or whatever the exact phrasing was), and that is a CBC-news-meets-Leno format. The show's format used to have real edge; it felt honest and fearless, now it feels slightly embarrassing.

"You Tube now the news" - that's quite a statement as to the direction that the Hour appears headed, Allison. I admit I used to enjoy the offbeat snippets culled from the internet in past seasons, but they were sparse and seemed special somehow. Now that YouTube clips are ubiquitous, I think, to maintain its edge, the Hour should move away from using them. Like you, I'd like to see a return to a more indepth look at the news.
Your point about the appropriateness of the news having a laugh track is indeed food for thought.

D. MacIsaac said...

...you always ( or most times ) hear from unhappy people and not the pleased people. Its like the saying '..you can fool some of the people all of the time...' only subsitute 'fool' with 'satisfy'. This is not only in regards to changes as well but the actual show as well as the medium it is viewed on. Personally, I hate TV in many ways and view news as a biased source of information but some people and places/shows seems more true to the cause and are there to do more than just entertain and I view the Hour as one of these programs. In many ways we live in prisons of our own creations with the mindsets, norms and values and TV is in many ways our warden. Keep up the goodwork either way and help break the chains on the minds of Canadians! Its also important to note that constant questioning is a good thing as only through introspection and feedback can we truly grow..both as a show and person ( and Nation too! ).

Allan said...

I want to talk to the warden about these chains.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about the online version of the Hour possibly replacing the TV version. More then once, I have decided to miss the show, because I can just stream it the next day.

The Hour used to be a ritual for me. I would watch the ending of the first broadcast at 8:00, and then catch what i missed at the 11:00 one. However, now I can only watch it at 11:00, and I've found my self falling asleep more then once before the show has ended.

I think changing the time slot hurt the Hour more then anything else. I believe that for the Hour to become more relevant/stay releven would be to return to an earlier time slot.

PS: I miss the emails alot. It was so cool to hear other opinions, as well as the first time mine was read on air was incredible. Thats probably something i miss more then the earlier time slots

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'm not certain if I entirely agree that you mostly hear from people who are dissatisfied, d.macisaac. At this particular site, we do get a lot of positive feedback about the Hour, and I do believe that both criticisms and kudos are important. I personally think that the CBC news is among the most measured and unbiased there is, and as it is impractical and next to impossible for people to get more immediate sources of information, I have to put my faith that the CBC is delivering information I can trust. But you are right, we must always be aware and continue to ask questions.

Oh those chains that bind, Allan ...

Well I am completely biased about the impact of the scheduling change upon the Hour, Anony, as I know that I cannot tune in at either 6 or 11, so for me online viewing is the only option. However, for reasons we went into earlier in the discussion, that is a far less satisfying option. I wonder how many people actually watch the 11 show. All those people who can stay up later than me, I guess.
I really miss the immediacy of the email readings as well. Having your email read made it feel as though you were contributing (regardless of the topic) to the national debate.

d. macIsaac said...

I watch the 11 show usually..or the next day. I also agree that the CBC is better than our american counterparts..in many cases its not news, its glorification and ratings...news should not be about getting it first in my opinion, its getting it right, and that means factual and unbiased.

Much of my previous post is not fully qualified...I don't want to make it seem like only complainers post, its just that usually they are the ones with the stongest opinions and usually are negative..you all seems fine! ;)

Anonymous said...

Further to format, I noticed a 'Top Stories' running news text from the start of The Hour's Jan 3rd program - but it stopped at some point during the Yusef Islam aka Cat Stevens interview - I wondered if that was a new idea for the show the producers are trying out?

Amy

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Barbara Bruederlin said...

Thanks d.macisaac, you seem fine too! Good point, negative comments are usually those that are expressed the most strongly, but the important thing is to maintain the dialogue.

That's an interesting development, Amy. I just checked out the first 9 minutes (until I got tired of the stop and start streaming - crappy computer) of the online show from Jan 3 and it wasn't appearing there. Perhaps it's a network addition. Didn't they always have news streaming at the bottom on the screen in past seasons?

Toccata said...

I discovered The Hour by accident somewhat late in the game. I had never heard of George, and at first I thought I had stumbled across another This Hour Has 22 Minutes kind of program. Thought it was lots of fun and although I hated The News sections I loved some of the interviews.

However, the show lost all relevancy to me the night they aired the program from the American training camp. It made no sense. Why did they not air the same kind of segment from the Canadian training camp? It is a Canadian show after all!

I don't understand why George has to make such a point of not wanting to be gung ho Canadian. It irks me to no end.

I have quit watching the show.

Brooksie said...

Funny that you feel it is not Canadian enough because some people complain when there are Canadian guests on the show. They feel they are too "small-time".

I remember that story on the American training camp. George and the gang were in the LA/Nevada area doing a number of stories. That was just one of them. I think from a logistics and budget point of view that made sense. Get a variety of stories from one location rather than get a variety of stories from a variety of locations.

I know that it costs me more to fly within Canada than to the USA.

Some might complain that it is CBC that pays for the show hence it is us as Canadians and it should serve us (which is not completely true as it was Newsworld who was producing it for the first 2 seasons and that money comes from cable fees and advertisers not taxes. Not sure what the situation is now that it is also on the main station.). Even so - whose tax dollars speak louder? Those who like the show? Those who never heard of it? Those who hate it? Those who watch sometimes? It is really hard to say. What a mandate they have!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I actually began watching the Hour (when it first aired) for the news aspect, Toccata, and was pleasantly surprised to see the fun bits sprinkled in there, so I guess we approach this from opposite directions.

I have to agree with Brooksie on the point of the logistics of the American Training camp piece. I remember that segment as well, and it was while the Hour travelled to Las Vegas (when they were exclusively on NewsWorld, hence not supported by tax dollars), so it did make sense to get as many stories from that locale as possible. You could of course ask, why travel to Vegas in the first place, but that's actually a very Canadian thing to do in the winter, at least in western Canada.
Perhaps the switch to the main network is one of the reasons that the Hour no longer travels and instead has a studio audience.

Brooksie said...

I am curious about their operating budget.Even though they have moved to the main network that does not necessarily mean that the majority of their funding is CBC - tax dollars. The CBC may purchase the rights to air the show as it does other shows it does not produce. Again it may not. Just speculation on my part.

Also, I remember reading somewhere that one reason they are not going on the road like they did last year is because of the new studio they are working in and budget considerations. Not sure if that is true though.

Toccata said...

Just to clarify I meant the one specific segment that he calls, "The News" which is the segment specifically about weird stuff that's happening in the world of entertainment. Although I had never liked that segment I noticed when reading comments about the show that I was in the minority on this point. Even though I don't like it I do think if it brings in the youth then I'm all for it.

Maybe one of the difficulties of a show of this nature is the viewers themselves comes with an idea of what it is they want to see.

I will also admit I was not impressed when they did the show from Vegas. I would rather see the show travel Canada. But, Brooksie you are probably right that while I'm complaining that it's not Canadian enough others think it is too Canadian.

One thing you cannot get away from is his show has certainly created dialogue in all sorts of arenas. I don't even watch the show anymore and I have strong opinions. How weird is that?

Maybe I'll have to give it another try. 668 aka neighbour of the beast has stated that the show got off to a rocky start this year but has improved.

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Anonymous said...

I thought when the showed started out that it was unique in its presentation of the news and particular issues. There was always something informative about the show last year. This year, it seems more less a talk show for interviewing celebrities. For instance today, if I'm not interested in Pink or Sianna Miller, why would I even tune in? I could get the quicky news from any news broadcast and save myself 45 minutes. I really enjoyed the show last year, this year its just plain boring.

Anonymous said...

I thought when the showed started out that it was unique in its presentation of the news and particular issues. There was always something informative about the show last year. This year, it seems more less a talk show for interviewing celebrities. For instance today, January 30, if I'm not interested in Pink or Sianna Miller, why would I even tune in? I could get the quicky news from any news broadcast and save myself 45 minutes. Plus, I wouldn't have to listen to Strombo say stuff like, Michael Jackson? Perhaps you've heard of him? The king of pop? 100 million record sales? Do you know how I'm talking about? Yes, George some of us are also alive and breathing and slightly informed. I really enjoyed the show last year, this year its just plain boring.

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