Pi Attitude Zone: Flexibility

Boob Tube? Idiot Box? More Like Yawn Machine

TV program scheduling is becoming redundant.  The People are taking over The Tube, and watching what they want, when they want.  And once again, technological change is driving social and behavioral change.

It’s about control.  When broadcasting first started out, the station scheduler was all-powerful, timing the big shows to pull the biggest possible simultaneous audience, and to pulverize the offerings on rival channels.  But the days are long gone when you had to be home at 9pm for a “must-see” soap, series, movie or sporting event on television.  Now it’s “Meh... I’ll catch it later”.

Successive waves of TV gizmos have put control more and more into the hands of the viewer.  First came the video-cassette recorder (VCR) and the hand-held remote-control device.  TV advertisers were petrified that viewers would use both devices to tune out their lovingly-crafted (and expensive) commercial messages.  And indeed the audience quickly learned to channel-hop in commercial breaks, forcing TV ratings research agencies to do a better job of tracking second-by-second channel viewership.

Then along came the one-hour time-shift channels (the “Plus-Ones”), pay-per-view, DVDs, interactive set-top boxes with record, pause, rewind and fast-forward features, on-demand services, mobile and multi-screen viewing.  The newest control device is the PVR, or Personal Video Recorder, typified by Sky+, V+ or YouView.

A study from Kantar Media Research suggests that “The spread of PVRs and on-demand services will soon result in time-shift viewing becoming the default option for UK consumers”.  PVR penetration has already topped 53%, while half of all viewers claim to have watched on-demand shows in recent weeks.

By a narrow margin, British viewing is still dominated by live shows watched at the time of transmission, the viewing mode of choice for 51%.  But over one-third already have the deferred-viewing habit using, and it’s projected to dominate soon.  The two modes are already almost level-pegging among the under-35s.

These developments take the urgency out of planning an evening’s viewing, since viewers can watch a favorite show more or less whenever they wish.  Quite apart from providing a lifeline to insomniacs, deferred and discretionary viewing are changing conversations in pubs and around the office water cooler.  Up and down the country, questions starting with the words “Did you see...?” are increasingly being answered with “No, I’m saving it for Saturday”. Advertisers are scrambling to make sure their messages still get an audience when that audience finally gets around to watching the show that features their brand.

Pi says:  the viewers have taken control.  What’s on TV?  Better to ask, what do you want to be on TV?

Zone: Flexibility Country: Europe Product – Leisure