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Helping BAFTA to increase TV’s action on climate change

The TV and film industries – like many sectors – can play a crucial role in helping to preserve the future of our planet. And while reducing the carbon footprint of TV programmes is important, the content we watch can make an even greater impact.

Collectively reaching millions of people every day, production companies have an unprecedented opportunity to influence the viewing public’s behaviours.

As UK Data Analytics partner George Johnston explained, "Arguably, in the United States 25 years ago, drink driving was much more socially acceptable. The media grasped this and started to influence production houses to use the phrase ‘designated driver’ in TV shows – suddenly there was a reduction in incidents. From this, we’ve learnt that if you can drop ideas into TV, they quickly become normalised.”

Turning to science

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) wanted to understand what the industry was doing to tackle climate change. The charity decided to look at how often environmental terms were mentioned on TV and was keen to see whether data science could help.

Our Data Analytics team began examining environmental coverage over a year’s worth of programmes, excluding the news. This meant taking subtitling data from September 2017 to 2018, across four broadcasters, 40 channels and 128,719 shows.

The team searched for specific terms to determine their frequency. This also helped to identify common themes and understand the sentiment used when climate change was referenced.

The results were surprising. Words associated with ‘energy’ were only mentioned six per cent of the time, even though it represents 24 per cent of the average person’s carbon footprint. More commonly used terms were ‘vegan’ and ‘vegetarian’, although food only accounts for 12 per cent of an individual’s footprint.

By delving deeper into the data, the team could see how often terms such as ‘carbon emissions’, ‘recycle’, ‘hybrid car’ or ‘wind power’ featured compared with, for example, ‘cake’, cheese’, ‘Christmas’ or ‘Brexit’.

“This enabled us to draw comparisons and bring our findings to life,” said George.

Screen but not heard

Combined, the 25 environment-related terms that were tracked appeared 17,884 times. This was less often than ‘beer’ (21,648 instances), ‘dog’ (105,245) or ‘tea’ (60,060).

‘Rhubarb’ (1,948), ‘goldfish’ (2,284), ‘zombie’ (2,488) and ‘pizza’ (13,027) were all mentioned more times than any individual word or phrase.

The research showed there was a tendency to talk about issues rather than solutions, as mentions of climate change and global warming far outweighed terms like ‘electric cars’ and ‘solar power’.

“The results highlight that the industry’s current coverage of the topic is out of step, with terms such as ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘gravy’ receiving more mentions over the past year than those related to climate change,” continued George.

“Now we’ve created this benchmark, there is a huge opportunity for broadcasters to address this by developing strategies to further communicate messages on sustainability.”

Over a 12-month period, the project covered:

  • 4 broadcasters
  • 40 channels
  • Subtitles from 128,719 programmes

“Reducing our impact is a given. But our real opportunity lies in the programmes we make, and in our ability to use powerful human stories to connect audiences with the world around them.”

Pippa Harris, Chair of BAFTA

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