Case Closed: Crimewatch and audience participation


33 years after it first aired, Crimewatch, one of the BBC’s longest running shows, has been axed. Hundreds of cases have been solved as a result of the show’s information appeals and reconstructions over its run.

However, viewing figures have dropped from a peak of 14 million to the average of 3 million who tuned in for its latest episodes. From a media perspective, the show is a major example of audience participation with viewers able to call in as it aired to interact with content.

One of Crimewatch’s many appeals; this one from 2012

Crimewatch’s legacy?

Today, audience participation is rapidly increasing within our television, especially as the traditional broadcast television steps into the fray against the new online kids on the block. Flagship shows on the traditional networks, like the BBC, now encourage direct participation, such as Match of the Day which invites viewers to take part in online polls.

In 2017, ITV pushed this trend further with their show, ‘Don’t Ask Me Ask Britain’, which allowed viewers to interact directly with the show through polls on their app, making this the central feature for discussion by the celebrity panel each week.

Questions for the future

How far can direct viewer participation go though? Will it be that in the next few years we see viewers on Skype, playing a giant Monopoly game, hosted by Scarlett Moffatt and Brian Cox, for our viewing pleasure? Now that’s not a bad idea. But is there much further that broadcasters can go before viewers get fed up of seeing themselves on TV? Arguably, online viewer participation is a broader successor to reality TV, where only a select few actually feature, and we aren’t fed up with the likes of Big Brother and Love Island yet, are we?

Viewer participation has come a long way since 1984. Crimewatch brought it to the mainstream and for better or worse it has added a new dimension to our viewing.