In technology something is always dying. In recent years the grim reaper has been reputed to be looking for, amongst others, CDs, DVDs, the book, the digital camera and PCs. To this long list (and note how many of those technologies proclaimed already dead are still very much alive and kicking) we can add the dominant technology of the 20th century: the television.
The death of TV is a persuasive argument and goes something like this: the arrival of the internet as a mass medium has allowed previously aggregated audiences to fragment and spend their leisure time pursuing more personalised experiences somewhere in the long tail of content.
These wants may be met by linear broadcast TV but time shifting technologies mean that the consumer is now able to access the content at his or her convenience, which in turn drives services like on-demand, the BBC iPlayer and IPTV, further fragmenting audience share.
Other users finding their wants no longer met by mass audience TV shows, which are often necessarily bland in their offering, will desert the platform entirely and instead spend time on social networks or instant messaging socialising virtually. Bar TV’s few remaining ‘mega events’ - the FA Cup final or the X-factor - linear broadcasting will die and as such TV watching will decline and no longer be the platform of choice.
As persuasive as this argument may be, it is simply not born out by the statistics. Rather than viewing hours declining under threat from alternative platforms as this analysis would suggest, they have remained pretty constant between 1997 and 2007 at about 25 hours a week.
Furthermore Freeview achieved near record sales of 2.4 digital TV recorders in quarter 3 of 2007 and 85.1% of UK households now receive digital TV services on their main set. The sales of plasma and HDTV’s are a well known retail success stories, and are climbing at around 4% a quarter. The TV market, both for broadcasters and manufacturers is undeniably healthy and is being supported by what Tom Morton from advertising agency TBWA calls a ‘riskier, edgier and more inventive’ approach to programming facilitated rather than threatened by the new technologies.
One area where TV does not appear so healthy though is in advertising where most companies' spend is migrating from TV to online as time-shifting technologies allow viewers to skip past the advertising messages. A recently published Digital Entertainment Survey found that 79% of those surveyed fast forwarded through all or most of the adverts that were contained in between the content they were viewing. Necessity being the mother of invention though, the Guardian reported this week that advertisers in the US are already experimenting with commercials that only make sense when viewed in fast forward.
So, as usual with a technological obituary, the predicted demise of TV as a broadcast medium and platform is extremely premature. TV will survive because it is willing to adapt and evolve and is looking to partner and collaborate with the disruptive force of the internet rather than trying to ignore it. What the box in the corner is actually doing though stands to change considerably over the next five years.
By Sam Ingleby – Programme Manager