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Friday, October 10, 2003

Where Does This Leave Television?

A very interesting argument courtesy of Rajesh at Emergic about the future of digital television. All the more interesting since it comes from Ashley Highfield, director of new media at the BBC:

Firstly, consumers are taking control of their media consumption, choosing not just the 'what' they watch but also the when, how and where they watch it. Now most people here probably know that TiVo and personal video recorders dramatically failed to rock anyone's world when they originally launched in the UK. Consumers just couldn't see the benefits for their £10 a month subscription. But in homes with Personal video recorders (or PVRs), around 70 percent of viewing is time-shifted: PVRs will mean we are able to finally break free of the 50 year long tyranny of the TV schedule.

The second trend our research showed was that the audience increasingly wants to join in and get closer to their media...Traditionally we have always thought that TV was about lying back relaxing and at best, half hearted interaction. In fact, recent trials again in Hull proved otherwise -- audiences want a lot more than this. They want to create their own content either from scratch, or perhaps using tools and support that a broadcaster can provide. In a fragmenting society, media becomes a substitute for community.

The third trend is about consuming more media simultaneously -- which is fast becoming the norm. Younger people are watching less TV -- this is a fact. But not only are people watching less TV, they are also less focused on the programmes and ads they do actually watch. Amongst the under 34s, viewing now falls into two distinct camps: high attention and appreciation for a few (and I mean very few) programmes, and much larger scale ambient or even apathetic viewing for the rest of the time the telly is on.

And finally, the last trend -- sharing. Broadband, which is growing exponentially in the UK (up 200 percent year on year to around 2.5 million subscribers now) will make downloading of decent video quality worthwhile, easy and cheap via the net. Downloading and sharing this video is the final piece of the jigsaw and will create a killer combination that I believe could undermine the existing models of pay-TV.

The killer combination is broadband together with digital TV and PVRs, plus the ability to share this video in the same peer-to-peer model with which music files are exchanged on the net. Broadband will provide the rich on-demand content; digital TV through Freeview will make 40 channels and interactive services available to the masses for free; PVRs will provide the means to break from the tyranny of the TV schedule; and sharing will enable file swapping of personal as well as broadcast content. It really doesn't matter if this solution is built into a PC as with the Microsoft's Media Centre, Sony's new PlayStation or a set top box. It all basically adds up to the same solution: a box and a screen -- offering unparalled video, TV, interactive and games content. What I'm certain of, is that this killer combination will be in half of all UK homes, in one form or another, by the end of this decade.

Perhaps the most important point is that young people are watching less TV, and getting involved with forms of media that are compatible with other activities (radio?). This tendency can put the whole TV industry in a negative feedback dynamic, as advertising pays less, and therefore TV needs more, which drives away more viewers etc. Now since the hey day of the TV had a very definite social impact, it is to be expected that it's relative demise will also be noticed.

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