The Burden of Choice

Writing in this month’s Television Magazine, Nigel Walley writes: If you live in a reasonably advanced TV household, the number of ways to get hold of a TV show have multiplied in the last couple of years. If you want to watch tonight’s Hollyoaks and can’t get back in time, you can record it on your PVR, get it via ‘Catch-Up’ on the TV or stream it from the PC. At some point in the near future, you will be able to download it directly to your iPod or your PSP. In last month’s Television Roger Graef made the leap to suggest that, because of these technologies we won’t need broadcasters and ‘as more content becomes available online, schedules will go to pot’.

Now I spend my life examining these technologies for clients. I have had access to both a PVR and on-demand programmes on my home telly for at least five years, and am a big consumer of online video.So as I read Roger’s piece, I felt the nagging question ‘if this is the case, why do I still watch so much broadcast TV?’

I believe that when you focus on the technology landscape of TV it is very easy to forget the things quite old fashioned truths about TV. Firstly, one of the strongest currencies in the TV world is the sense of ‘new’. Unlike music and books, most TV programmes have a short shelf life. Only a small number make it into the hardy perennials list that make up the UKTV schedule, or the on-demand archive.

If you give consumers on-demand access to the complete TV archive, they still want to see that ‘new thing launching tonight’. Our research has consistently shown us that, in homes with PVRs and on-demand , consumers still check-in with the main EPG just to check what programmes are on that evening. There is some still a powerful need to make sure that you are not missing something you have heard about.

Our interest in the ‘new’ is fuelled by TV channels’ marketing and PR departments. While we would like to think that we are independently minded, self actualisers, the truth is that we want to watch what we get told to want to watch by papers, posters and by the TV channels themselves. We want to be part of the national narrative around content that is created by TV channels.

While we could schedule on-demand content to effectively launch new concepts into on-demand, only TV channels can deliver the bursts of mass audience needed to break new shows and to build and sustain TV brands.

Roger’s analysis makes the assumption that broadcasters will not respond with programming and scheduling strategies designed to maximise a live audience at key points through the week. But we know that there are already many TV formats that you need to watch live to get the full experience. Last year we made the mistake of recording Strictly Come Dancing. My youngest Harry is nine. He hadn’t got his head round the idea that, in watching a recording, he would not be able to vote. A firestorm of a tantrum erupted when he realised he couldn’t make the call. Penny and Ian got voted off, and we got blamed. Now, any show with a vote gets watched live at the point of broadcast.

The challenge for broadcasters is to increase the number of shows with this kind of draw beyond the holy trinity of voting, sport and news. These shows consistently drive people back to live channels, but the TV industry already knows that soaps, first run dramas and movies can do the same job if marketed properly.

Our research shows that consumers are beginning to use the new features as convenience and support tools around their core channel use . TV effectively has introduced a customer service programme. My sense is that we are moving into a mixed economy of distribution options, anchored at the centre by broadcast channels that will be the main driver of new output. The interesting thing will be to see how many channels can get this, and can prepare themselves for this world.

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