Apparently, recent research has found that 1 in 4 British people (26%) now claim to spend more time watching TV through ‘on-demand’ services, such as BBC’s iPlayer, YouTube or Channel 4’s 4OD, than they do watching traditional ‘linear’ broadcast TV. Among young people ages 18 to 24, the figure jumps to a substantial 41%.
Frankly, though, as far as I can see, the only surprising thing here is that the figure isn’t higher.
I can safely say that I never, ever watch television when it’s actually on.
BBC iPlayer, and its (sadly inferior) cousins, are a permanent fixture on my computer, be it stored up in a list of tabs I’ve collected while browsing, saving them for later when I’ve got time to sit down and watch them properly, or actually playing – in the background as I potter around doing things, behind my Word document as I write, perched on my bed as I snuggle down for the evening, catching up on all the great programmes I’ve ‘missed’.
Except, I don’t actually consider myself to have ‘missed’ them – because that would suggest that I aimed to watch them live, when first broadcast, and failed.
I didn’t – on demand services have completely revolutionised the way that I – and people like me ‒ watch TV, to the point where I don’t even try to watch programmes live anymore.
Going out or staying in?
Gone is the feeling from years ago of having to ‘stay in’ and watch things, of having to choose between going out, or following your favourite show. I remember when I was growing up, for example, I used to love watching that paragon of televisual perfection (ahem) Casualty, but not only could I not keep up with it because of missing every other Saturday, but I also suffered the crushing social humiliation (sob) of having people mock me because I’d prefer to spend a night in front of the TV than go out (such a cool kid).
Nowadays, I can go out without a thought for what might be on TV, and can also watch all the utter rubbish I like without anyone knowing (unless I write about it, of course – a whole other issue). Bliss!
I wouldn’t dream of scheduling my life around television anymore.
My house does still have a television, but I don’t watch live TV on that either. We happen to have Sky+, but there are a multitude of others providers available – TiVo, Virgin Media, to name a few ‒ that allow you to record programmes and watch them later on. If I lived alone, I would probably dispense with the TV altogether, save myself the licence fee, and watch everything online.
(The only problem I can foresee in such a model is that if everyone did that, there would be no licence fee and the BBC would cease to function. Perhaps if the industry reaches that stage, anyone watching iPlayer, live or not, would have to pay – and really, I think that would probably be perfectly fair – I’d certainly be willing to pay even if I only watched the BBC online.)
Nowadays, I rarely go straight home after work. I usually go out somewhere, with friends, to an event, to my barbershop choir practice, to the gym.
And then there’s over an hour’s trip home, not counting the quick dash around the supermarket on the way out of the station, the walk back, or the making of dinner and tomorrow’s lunch as soon as I walk through the door. That’s before I’ve even eaten the dinner, tidied up the kitchen, or spoken to anyone in my house.
It’s no surprise, really, that most nights I’m not free to actually watch a thing until at least half 9, if not half 10 or later. If I only had live television to choose from, I’d catch programmes as they were finishing at best; completely miss everything worth watching at worst.
TV, as old-fashioned as it sometimes seems, with its potential to fade in the digital Internet age, is still absolutely a thriving medium.
Innovative programmes pop up all the time, programmes that seem to re-invent the wheel, and stay on top. Witness recent greats – both intellectual, highly-entertaining and/or ratings-winning ‒ such as Mary Beard’s Meet The Romans, BBC One’s The Voice UK, ITV’s Downton Abbey, BBC stalwart David Attenborough’s fantastic HD shows such as Life and Frozen Planet, to name but a few ‒ all nestling successfully among old favourites such as the tired-but-still-fighting Top Gear, iconic football roundup Match of The Day, or weekend perennial Saturday Kitchen with its new sister show, Saturday Kitchen Best Bites or political commentary AM with Andrew Marr ‒ all proving that audiences still aren’t bored of genres that one might otherwise have argued were on their way downhill.
I might rebuke traditional viewing, but I am still a TV-lover, and will scour the schedules for anything that takes my fancy.
I look forward to the latest episode of my new TV favourites that I can catch online – which in recent weeks and months have included (among many) Downtown Abbey, The Romans, Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen, Ewan McGregor’s Cold Chain Mission, The Voice UK, Saturday Kitchen (as ever), James Martin’s Operation Hospital Food, Two Greedy Italians: Still Hungry, Sicily Unpacked, legal drama Silk, Shakespeare in Italy as part of the BBC’s absolutely wonderful ‘Shakespeare Unlocked’ season, Rick Stein’s foray into the American Deep South blues culture Rick Stein Tastes The Blues, his fabulous Spain series, Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Great Britain programmes, Great British Menu, Masterchef, the brilliant Call The Midwife, Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve, Louis Theroux’s incredible documentaries on autism and dementia, BBC Three’s fascinating I Woke Up Gay, and the recent BBC documentary on Fleetwood Mac…at great length, I could go on.
Of course, you can see a theme here: my choice of programmes primarily centre around food, history, travel, culture and sometimes music ‒ and this in itself proves that for me, as my life is now, there is absolutely no reason to watch television as it’s on, bar perhaps having to avoid the news for a while so I’m not inadvertently informed of who’s been voted off The Voice.
As anyone can choose what they want to watch in much the same way when doing so online, I see no reason why anyone would need to always watch TV only when it’s first on.
I can still get my fill of fabulous programmes, tailored pretty much exactly to my tastes, watched soon after their initial transmission date, free from the dictations of having to watch live. I can escape adverts, long waits between shows; the rush to get home before I miss the beginning or indeed, the entire thing.
I can join in with the online and/or media debate surrounding programmes; add to the topical discussions at work or home, agree or disagree with my fellow watchers, deplore or adore programmes to my heart’s content, all without feeling tethered to my television like some prisoner on house arrest.
I can read reviews and arguments before I’ve seen the show in question, pressing play on my screen with the smug satisfaction of someone who has had read around the subject and is now ready to make their own judgements.
I can go out, stay in, play, replay, without fear that I’ve missed a crucial twist in the story – my only worry being that there will be too much to watch, and I won’t manage to get through it all before the cruel, cruel iPlayer controllers whisk it off the schedule before I’ve had a chance to indulge.
Mind the age gap
However, among all this wonder, it seems that the ease with which I manipulate the schedules for my own viewing pleasure – a revelation, and indeed, the only way I can watch TV due to the hectic, commuting lifestyle I share with millions of others – is woefully yet to spread among the majority of the public.
Not only does the research suggest this, but my mum – by no means representative alone but spouting an opinion which seems to be shared by a fair few, especially those of her age group – maintains that, despite our Sky+ recordings, if she doesn’t catch a programme as it’s on, that’s it; she probably won’t see it. Basically, this means that she doesn’t see much at all. Some might say that makes her more discerning – but actually, I just see it as someone who is wilfully missing out on a whole world of fabulous, armchair travelling, intellectually-stretching, eye-opening, culturally-enriching and entertaining golden nuggets of information, which also happen to be easily accessible and totally free to watch.
This saddens my heart.
The Internet as innovation
Long since promoted from the darkened bedrooms of sad, lonely, middle-aged blokes, the Internet is now rightly heralded as a force for creativity, allowing new connections, new communities and outlets to thrive; providing a window on to a growing scene of innovation and social commentary that would have remained hidden and undeveloped but ten or fifteen years ago.
People my age often do everything on the Internet (or digitally, in some respect) – and people younger than me definitely do so. I shop, write, keep in touch with friends, buy holidays, flights, train tickets, books and magazines online.
I read newspapers, listen to the radio, find out the weather forecast, help prepare for my tutoring lessons, translate languages, settle arguments, set up dates, suggest meet-ups with friends, keep up with what old school and Uni mates are doing, all online.
I can find new music, new books, new movies; discover lyrics, songs, theories or historical documents; pursue philosophical arguments, follow style, psychology, history, journalism, science and happiness blogs; I can meet and talk to people interested in the same subjects as I am, both online and, because of a meet-up arranged online, often continue the conversations in person.
So why, pray tell, would I not watch TV online also?
Ladies and gentlemen of the still mainly live-watching public – I implore you: find that record button, type in that web address.
You have nothing to lose but your TV guides.