TV's changing? Not so fast….

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.

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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”

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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.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    The TV licence made more sense when there were only 4 channels. Now it just seems like another tax used to promote the status quo, keep those in power in power and keep feeding us passifying rubbish. Oh and paying off failed executives and doddgy DJs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    We recently had a salesman trying to flog us sky. We turned it down. I believe companies like Sky and Virgin will need to change very quickly to keep up with things like smart tv's and games consoles which offer far better streaming. People don't want to watch tv to a fixed schedule. £7 p/m for netflix? An absolute bargain and can be viewed on any device and tv in the house at the same time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    There' nothing quite like a discussion about TV to bring out the superiority complex in certain people.

    Those that don't watch TV - good for you (really), but you are mistaken if you think somehow you're a better person as a result.
    Nor indeed should you assume that people forsake all other activity because of one available entertainment medium.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Not at all surprised with the amount of people using streaming/catch-up apps to view TV. I am however surprised at the amount of people questionning the quality of programming? In recent years we've had - Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Boardwalk Empire, Luthor, House of Cards, Curb Your Enthusiasm & shortly True Detective.

    This is a great time for quality TV.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.


    ... or subscrive to YouView. You will pay a one off fee to YouView for the box (about the cost of the TV Licence tax), but they have a host of on Demand services. You get all the BBC, C4, C5, Dave... on Demand services, the whole lot.

    You can also chose (something the BBC doesn’t give you) to pay for movies, and other services if you wish.

    No aerial needed, no licence tax needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    I, for one, watch pretty much all TV as a recorded format. I can't stand live TV on the commercial channels, where pretty soon we'll have more advertising than actual programme. Not sure where these surveys get their data from but I don't think they're that reflective of true viewing habits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    I'm 23, don't own a television and never will. Why would anyone want to be told when and where to watch a program? TV in every room or a laptop with a good screen...obvious choice.

    Better choice of programs, no adverts and freedom of content.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Im a graphic designer, I dont own a 'smart TV' because I agree with 'undoubtedly awful user interface' statement. I've sat around these devices with other designers blown away by the odd & bad bad design choices made. Until a Dyson or an Apple come in and sort it out, its not something I would use. Not surprised that advertising is being watched more, particularly from those who 'are not affected'

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.


    Actually, hold 5 on that. Not sure what the rules are re streaming from dodgy sites. Will have a look.

    That said, I would argue the BBC would have a hell of a job proving you were streaming a live feed from a station in India!


    Get a smart TV, hook it up to the internet, and watch on demand. Almost everything broadcast live, is then repeated on demand. Well, all the good stuff

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    More Rory twaddle.
    People just watch live TV because everything else is too much effort? What utter rubbish!

    On most Freeview and Freesat PVRs you just open the guide, select the programme to record, the hit the record button. Playback: go to library, select, play.
    iPlayer (freesat) 901, red button, choose programme. Simples!!

    Yes, Rory. It doesn't have a touch screen, but "an effort"? Get real!

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    As Bruce Springsteen noted back in the 1990's 52 channels and nothing on - only now its 152 and nothing worth watching.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    I'm far too busy to be watching TV, live, dead, or anything in between. There are 6000 books in the house for a start, a large garden to grow own food, a well equipped workshop for using the hands - all much more satisfactory than the infantile dribblings of what passes for entertainment on the box. Unless things have improved over the past thirty years. Convince me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    I must admit I find it difficult to accept these stats - nobody I know watches live TV any more (except maybe sport) because of the adverts.

    All the people I know under 20 use tablets & phones to view online content (plus many older folk too) & in March 2013 alone there were 272m program requests in iPlayer (BBC stats).

    Something somewhere does not add up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    The BBC, for all its many faults, is part of the fabric of this country and I think we lose public service broadcasting at our peril. Just think of your favourite programmes over the past 20 years and count how many weren't BBC.

    That said, the BBC should slim down to just a couple of channels and stop trying to replicate commercial dross like the X Factor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Rory you make a very basic error

    "on the TV ... via a games console ... on a tablet computer"
    "via the BBC iPlayer on the TV.. also.. on DVD via the games console -" You also watched some "bog standard tv" and youtube (device unnamed)

    Of 7 of these examples you try and differentiate a total of 5/7 were still via a TV! Not mobile, tablet etc, but looking at the big box in your living room!

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    What is the best way of legally avoiding paying for a TV licence. I don't want to give up my TV, what do I need to plug it into instead of the aerial.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.


    I'll be watching Top Gear on my tablet at Lunch. You paid for that :) Thanks.


    Almost all sport are available to stream live online now (in HD). Just hook the laptop up to the TV via HDMI. No need for the Licen’C’e tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    I can't understand why anyone watches live TV, except sports and things like Strictly. I haven't seen a TV commercial for years. However, speaking as a wrinkly, what I'd love to see is the technology to split the audio components of a programme so that I can turn off the background music. I bet it could be done already - just a matter of how it's paid for, I suppose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    In response mainly to the multi-million pound fees paid to 'celebrity idiots' by the BBC I stopped paying the licence fee about 3 years ago and stopped watching live TV.
    I use catch-up services and subscribe to one of the online services - what I want when I want it.
    TV licence is just a habit to most - BBC need to prepare for a significant reduction in income.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Modern TV provides an increasingly wide range of exciting new...rubbish.


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