Residents of inner-city Sydney were treated today to the charming visual of a man having sex with a pig. “Hur hur,” you might say, “sounds like a typical day in King’s Cross!” But the image was on a billboard advertising a Foxtel channel.
The picture itself comes from an episode of the British TV series Black Mirror, written by the ever-provocative Charlie Brooker. The billboard, however, provided no context, opting instead for the winking slogan ‘WTF! Watch The Forbidden’.
The backlash was swift and predictable. Wendy ‘Think Of The Children’ Francis of the Australian Christian Lobby registered her dismay. Newspapers and blogs picked up the story, and since then Foxtel has apologised, and promised that the ad will be removed: “It was intended to provoke, but it is clearly in appalling taste and demonstrates a lapse of judgment by Studio, and a failure in the approvals process at Foxtel … We [have] instructed Studio to remove and replace the billboard. This will happen as soon as possible.”
Shock tactics are nothing new in advertising. They’re a great way to get attention and we see them all the time, from grisly anti-smoking PSAs, to hormone-drenched deodorant commercials. Even so, Foxtel’s naked desperation is pretty staggering.
Someone woke up, had a coffee, went to work and said: “How do we get people talking about our new channel? I know, a picture of a dude fucking a pig.” Someone else signed off on that idea, and now here we are.
What Does It Mean?
Free-to-air television has long been in decline. Earlier this year, Channel 10’s CEO Hamish McLennan announced a shift towards programs targeting older viewers, to combat the effects of a younger generation who are not interested in traditional TV. (We pitched some ideas at him. Still no phone call.)
The forecast for Australian pay TV services isn’t as bleak, but it’s not great either, with subscriber growth rates slowing down. In the year to December 2011, Foxtel’s subscriber base grew by just two percent.
In America, the situation is even worse. Last year, for the first time ever, the number of households paying for cable TV services went down. Research group TDG predict a decline of five per cent by 2017, which doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but still – yikes.
What Happens Now?
Junkee’s own Elmo Keep has written before about the effects of illegal downloading on creative output and traditional media; Caitlin Welsh has written about how Australia’s lagging TV programming is doing itself no favours. Some companies, like Amazon, Netflix and HBO Go — and, to a lesser extent, SBS On Demand and ABC iView — have chosen to roll with this trend towards the internet. Others, not so much.
If a picture of a dude fucking a pig is actually what it takes to get people watching traditional TV, it may be time for a rethink.
Elmo Keep: ‘The Case Against Free‘
Elmo Keep: ‘Combating The Cost Of The Free Economy‘
Caitlin Welsh: ‘Spoil, Steal Or Stream: Why Is TV In Australia So Behind The Times?‘