Archive for August, 2010

I have lost count of the number of articles I’ve read, presentations I’ve attended, and assorted ramblings I’ve listened to that have stated – in various different ways – that ‘Television is dead’.

I just read yet another, by the writer Bill Thompson. In part of this article he makes the claim that the TV licence in the UK (used to fund the BBC) ‘is a real problem because it ties income to a technology that is now being ‘replaced”.

He doesn’t directly state what it is being replaced with, but does mention broadband. We are presumably being told it’s more of the ‘Broadband is killing TV’ argument.

Articles like this are fairly typical of the sort of wild prediction we’re getting from certain quarters, and needless to say I think it is nonsense of the highest order. There are various aspects to the story that the so-called ‘visionaries’ and ‘experts’ seem to ignore but need to be reminded of:

1) TV viewing has increased in recent years;
2) Recent research by OFCOM suggests that consumers are spending nearly 4 hours a day watching TV;
3) Sales of Digital TV enabled equipment are going up. According to another set of OFCOM figures, sales reached around 3.4 million units in Q1 2010, up by 8% on Q1 2009.

None of this looks to me like television is in terminal decline. On the contrary: it looks in pretty rude health to me.

Some even more facinating research has been recently conducted by an organisation called Thinkbox. This is a trade body representing the commercial television industry in the UK.  Their findings regarding the impact of ‘on demand’ and ‘catch-up’ services are interesting and not what many (especially of the ilk of Mr Thompson) would expect. It indicates that people are using ‘on-demand’ services (ITV Player, SKY Player and the like) to catch-up on series they would otherwise have missed and abandoned altogether. But it is what happens after they have caught-up that is particularly interesting: What seems to be happening is that having caught-up, people are then continuing to follow the series by going back to the normal TV channel again.  Another related aspect is that social media, where you might also be following the show – perhaps even at the same time as you’re watching it – requires you to be watching at the same time as everyone else. The most convenient way of doing this is via conventional television.

These two findings point to a world where broadband, on-demand, and social-media, far from causing television’s demise are actually resulting in a deepening of people’s relationship with it.  I don’t remember any of the ‘experts’ and ‘visionaries’ predicting anything like this…

A further aspect is that new, ‘digital brands’ that have been founded solely on the web with no physical, high street presence are actually turning to television to establish themselves.  Two of the biggest spending brands on ITV – GoCompare and CompareTheMarket, are internet only. Yet it is interesting that they are turning to traditional media to establish themselves, and indeed it is via television that people are getting to hear about them.

So what are we to make of it?  Well firstly, I doubt you will hear much of any of this from the so-called ‘experts’ and ‘visionaries’ and other self-selecting commentators. Yet these findings don’t surprise me in the slightest. I have worked in technology all my life, yet it is clear that people outside of the technology fraternity simply don’t get taken in by the ramblings of these people. The vast majority of the population are quite happy with their television viewing – ‘traditional’ as it may be – and don’t want it  ’replaced’ thank you very much.

It goes to show that if you want to know what is really going on, you better off avoiding the ramblings of the visionaries, and just asking people in the pub or on the bus. You’re likely to get much more of a sensible insight.

The fundamental issue in the media industry currently – as we know – is that quality content isn’t free. It has to be funded by some means. We know that newspaper and magazine circulations continue to fall, but that the web based versions of them aren’t generating enough revenue to make up the shortfall.

So, what to do about it? One view is that the newspapers should stop ‘giving away’ content for free, and should also bar the ‘aggregators’ and search engines from re-packaging and re-purposing it. Ironically, it is becoming a fact that the aggregators, search engines, and so on seem to be the only organisations making money.

As (someone – I can’t remember who) said recently “The New York Times pays for a bureau in Bagdhad but Google doesn’t”.

And it’s true isn’t it. The content doesn’t come for free – it takes time, effort, money and resources to make. The fact that balance of power seems to be shifting away from the ‘makers’ and ‘producers’ towards the ‘distributors’ and ‘aggregators’ is not just wrong but very dangerous. In the news industry, for example, there is a very real danger of the number of actual news providers diminishing, leaving alot of what is going on around us unreported.

Many of the so-called ‘experts’ counter this with arguments along the lines of “it is an inevitability of the new world” or “the old business models are dead and buried and we can’t (or shouldn’t) protect them”.

I don’t agree with this. I think much of what people misguidedly write off as ‘traditional media’ is actually worth defending and we will be far worse off without it. The problem is that we won’t notice until it is gone.

The question in my mind isn’t so much about whether people should pay or not (because they should) but how.

Murdoch has gone down the route of a ‘Paywall’, but this inevitably means people being faced with yet another web page demanding their credit or debit card details. Given the concern (quite rightly) about internet security and secure payments, it’s not surprising people are wary of embracing this. So the question must be whether there is another way of paying that is more anonymous. People seem to be prepared to lavish money on mobile phone apps (and mobile phones in general – despite them being one of the biggest cons in history) so surely there must be another – better – way of facilitating the payments.

One other argument that gets wheeled out repeatedly from certain quarters is the notion that content should be free as a matter of principle. This seems to me to be a weird delusion. You wouldn’t expect clothes to be free? Crazy..