Technology

TV's changing? Not so fast….

  • 17 February 2014
  • From the section Technology
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Generic smart TV

From new devices on which we view, to a whole range of new online services, a wave of innovation has swept across television in the past decade. But how much have your viewing habits actually changed?

Here is how my weekend looked. I spent much of it binge-viewing the second series of House of Cards, the Netflix production often seen as the symbol of how TV is changing. I watched it in various ways - on the TV via my cable company which has just added Netflix, via a games console where the streaming service is now an app, and on a tablet computer, which was the simplest most portable viewing method.

As a family, we sat down and watched a couple of episodes of the BBC comedy Outnumbered - not live but via the BBC iPlayer on the TV, another app provided by the cable company. We also watched a great documentary, Searching for Sugarman, on DVD via the games console - providing another opportunity for my wife to voice her frustration at the machine's undoubtedly awful user interface.

I also watched some YouTube videos explaining the functions of a camera I'm using and my son spent plenty of time looking at various online videos - like many teenagers that seems to be where he consumes most of his TV. We even watched a little bit of bog-standard live television, mostly news.

Now if you were to believe some media pundits, those kind of viewing habits are becoming commonplace, with online services and promiscuous use of every kind of device replacing linear television and tired old channels. But hold on a minute.

New figures published today seem to show that the mass of the viewing population is far more conservative than one might imagine. In 2013, the average UK viewer watched three hours and 52 minutes of linear television a day on a TV set, and just three minutes and 30 seconds on other devices such as tablets, smartphones and laptops.

Viewing on devices other than TVs of video on demand services like ITV Player, Sky Go and the BBC iPlayer accounted for just 1.5% of overall TV consumption. That was up from 1.2% in 2012, but it is still a minority pursuit

As for time-shifting programmes, while 59% of homes now own a digital TV recorder, even in these homes more than 80% of television is watched live. And despite the fact that technology allows us to shuttle through the ads, the number of TV adverts watched is up 10% over the last five years.

Now, the figures were released by Thinkbox, the marketing body for commercial television, so you might expect them to accentuate the positives about traditional ways of viewing.

But a similar message came from the media regulator Ofcom last summer when it reported that families were congregating around the big TV in the living room once more.

The major broadcasters should not however be complacent. Services like Netflix are proving there is an appetite for different ways of viewing television, and we still don't know whether the very different TV habits of 15 to 25 year olds will become commonplace.

What has not been transformed is the clunky interface on most televisions, which still makes it too much of an effort to do anything more than just sit back and watch what's on live. Recently, the boss of one major electronics firm told a private meeting that the living room really had not changed much since the 1970s and there was a big opportunity for anyone who could pull that off.

For now, though, we are still waiting for someone to "fast forward" the TV revolution.