Stop it: TV is not broken
by Jonathon Oake
I’ve seen a lot of links to this piece from the Minimal Mac blog, ‘TV is Broken’:
She’s still confused. She thinks this is like home where one can choose from a selection of things to watch. A well organized list of suggestions and options with clear box cover shots of all of her favorites. I have to explain again that it does not work that way on television. That we have to watch whatever is on and, if there is nothing you want to watch that is on then you just have to turn it off. Which we do.
I then do what I should have simply done in the first place. I hook up the iPad to the free hotel wifi and hand it to her. She fires up the Netflix app, chooses a show, and she is happy.
This, she gets. This makes sense.
The thrust of the article is straightforward: the author’s toddler daughter watches most of her TV on non-linear on-demand platforms. She doesn’t like, and doesn’t understand, traditional scheduled TV where she can’t watch exactly what she wants when she wants.
I read this piece and was nodding along in recognition, if not agreement. My daughter Mabel, who is 2 (half the age of the author’s own daughter), has similar frustrations with linear TV. She watches 90% of all her TV content on my iPad. She can watch what she wants, when she wants, and – crucially – where she wants. If she is watching scheduled TV she gets (super) angry because it’s not always showing exactly what she wants, when she wants it, without interruptions.
The problem with the piece, noted by Twitter user @quietdiscourse, is the implicit line of reasoning: “my toddler is surprised by the functionality of (media form) therefore (media form) is broken.”
It is not surprising toddlers prefer their TV delivered on an on-demand basis rather than a scheduled bases. Toddlers prefer everything to be delivered on-demand – TV, bananas, tickles, stories. They hate having to put up with anyone’s schedule, and what’s more, they are intrinsically unable to appreciate any of the benefits of the concept of ‘schedule’ itself. Of which there are a few – a schedule allows for development of routine, eliminates surprise, provides a basis for going off-schedule where desired and, most importantly with TV, a set-and-forget schedule ensures an event (i.e. a schedule of programming) will always occur with no human involvement whatsoever.
Put simply, toddlers do not watch TV like normal human beings. Before they were frustrated by the differences between on-demand IPTV and scheduled TV, they were just as frustrated by the differences between DVDs and scheduled TV.
My daughter watches TV like this – sits 3 inches in front of the screen and watches Peppa Pig, a 4-minute program, over and over. And over. And over. AND OVER. The ABC iView on-demand app saves 3 broadcast episodes of Peppa Pig. On Saturday mornings, the main TV opportunity, my daughter will watch these 3 episodes twice, sometimes three times, in immediate succession, giving maybe 40 minutes of TV watching. She is frustrated by scheduled TV, but mostly because it doesn’t show Peppa Pig for 6 hours straight.
The people who create TV schedules do not, by and large, create these schedules for audiences like her. They create schedules for normal people, who like to watch a range of diverse programming, with wide appeal. I think that while there’s clearly evolution going on with on-demand content, I believe scheduled TV will persist.
Media forms, by and large, do not go away. The exception is formats where there is a like-for-like replacement, like VHS to DVD and cassettes to CD.
The first thing you notice when you look at the chart on the left (from the media agency Carat, and showing time spent with media forms) is that there are a lot more colours on the right-hand side of the graph than on the left. All these new media forms come along, but the old ones don’t go away. They just take a slightly narrower slice of an exponentially growing pie.
For audiences, these older media forms evolve, as the role they perform in the audience’s lives changes. Most people used to get newsreels from the cinema, every week; when TV came along, people could get their news there; cinema didn’t die, however, it evolved into the pure entertainment form it largely still is; as people can get comparable experiences on 55″ TVs at home, cinema might evolve further into a more social, performative activity (who knows, really? Certainly not any futurists I’ve been paying attention to).
The simple fact is, TV still performs an important role in people’s lives. It’s the entertainment of last resort – the thing you do when you’re not doing anything, when even browsing Facebook is too much effort. I am a big believeer in on-demand content. I own an Apple TV and use it almost every day. But browsing content on the device is still a comparative chore when set against scheduled TV, and I’m yet to see an on-demand TV platform that overcomes this. You need to know what you want to watch, when you want to watch it, and adults have more complicated brains than my 2yo daughter.
Before someone tells you scheduled TV is dead, point them to the following key facts [click links for sources where available, some are pdfs]:
- 99.7% of Australian HHs own a TV.
- 14.2 million Australians watched TV every day in 2011, the highest daily penetration in 6 years.
- Australians spent 3hrs 10mins every day with TV in 2011, a number which hasn’t moved in 4yrs, and which dwarfs any other media type.
- More than 3m TV panels were sold in Australia in 2011, with three-quarters of that non-IP connected [GFK figures, no source]. My assumption is the majority of these 3m(ish) households making new investments in TV technology is to watch scheduled TV. Furthermore, as price erosion of TV technology increases, roughly two-thirds of HHs now have more than one TV, a number which continues to grow.
You cannot look at the above numbers, which are pretty staggering, and say with a straight face that TV is dead, either now or in the short- to medium-term. Apart from toddlers, who have always felt this way, everyone else likes TV.