Sometimes, stories just… happen. Not just on Twitter, but really… happen. This usually requires a few different things to occur at the same time. It needs both coverage and a cultural moment.
As I write this I’m obviously thinking about the Post Office scandal, the enormous fallout from which we are currently, finally, seeing in the UK following the airing of “Mr Bates vs the Post Office”. After years of dogged reporting by specialist publication Computer Weekly and the magazine Private Eye, it was an ITV drama that captured the public imagination.
The story tapped into a sense of injustice against normal people by a giant corporation (the Post Office/Fujitsu) that many people are increasingly feeling. There was also a shock at an entity that we thought was benign (again, the Post Office) being shown to have wronged people. Almost everyone can relate to that or feel angry on behalf of the victims. I discuss it all briefly in this blog post, and more in-depth on this week’s “House of Comments” podcast.
In less serious scenarios, we see streaming certain shows catch alight – remember the “Wednesday” buzz, for instance, or how everyone was suddenly watching “Ted Lasso”? (However, the numbers recently released by Netflix raise the question of whether the things people talk about are actually what is being watched.”)
What is fascinating is not just how these things happen, but whether such moments can continue to occur. Transatlantic media isn’t entirely monolithic, despite a huge number of US imports into the UK, but it is as close as it has ever come to it being so. Whether it is TV shows, online influencers or sport, we are all seeing a lot of the same things.
Or, more accurately, we all have access to many of the same things. We live in an increasingly siloed media age. It is pretty clear that apart from major sporting events or “Barbie” not everyone is watching the same thing. That is just the nature of streaming. My watchlist simply isn’t the same as yours. More and more, the services we choose to pay for are not the same either. It means very few shows are going to be “the thing everyone is watching”.
And that is what makes “Mr Bates vs the Post Office” such an unrivalled success, at least domestically. The story of a sub-postmaster from Llandudno and the people he galvanised to fight for justice has been watched by a staggering 9.2 million people in the UK, according to ITV.
That is a quite staggering achievement for a docu-drama. It could probably only have been pulled off by a linear broadcaster and it probably won’t happen again for some time, if at all.