TV's future looks long and strong

Royal wedding balcony kiss The way audiences watched the royal wedding proved the vital bond between TV and the internet

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Remember all those stories saying "TV is dead"? Google is full of them - about 949,000, according to its own calculation.

"TV is dead. Long live the internet," proclaimed a Guardian headline just a couple of months ago.

Yet what once seemed the conventional wisdom now looks premature at least - as Google's chairman Dr Eric Schmidt admitted at the weekend at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.

"In 2010, UK adults spent as much time watching TV in four days as they did using the web in a month," he said in his keynote McTaggart Lecture. "TV is still clearly winning the competition for attention!"

A Deloitte analysis for the festival reported that TV viewing had risen every year since 2006. In May 2011, it said, total television viewing was up by 6% year on year, an increase of 364 million hours.

"To put this rather large number in perspective," said the report, "it is equivalent to double the time the UK spent on Facebook, Linked In and Twitter in the same month. Not too shabby for a medium that has been, and continues to be, prophesied to disappear."

The chair of the Television Festival, George Entwistle, director of BBC Vision, said: "This year we've seen enormously resilient audience figures for traditionally scheduled TV experiences - from the Royal Wedding and Saturday night blockbuster entertainment to a resurgence in high quality drama from the big broadcasters."

Start Quote

I think we're on the cusp of a golden age for TV - a vast choice, made manageable by a magical guide, ensuring there's always something wonderful to watch”

End Quote Dr Eric Schmidt Google chairman

People are also buying more - and bigger - TV sets, according to TV Licensing, with more than two million 40-inch-plus sets sold last year.

Far from being killed by the internet, television viewing has never been more popular. Some in the industry claim TV is now set to be the dominant partner, creatively at least.

John McVey, director of the producers' association PACT, said internet companies were crying out for top quality television content to feed the demands of its audience.

YouTube (owned by Google) is one. Created on the back of "user generated content", with millions of ordinary people sharing their video clips, the company now has a director whose job is to build its partnerships with broadcasters and other professional content providers.

In a session called The Battle for the Living Room, Ben McOwen-Wilson said a major priority for YouTube this year was to bring more "high-end" content onto the platform by offering to split advertising revenue with broadcasters and independent producers.

Channel 4 was the first broadcaster in the world to put its full catch-up service on YouTube.

Another priority, McOwen-Wilson said, was to make it easier for people to watch YouTube on the television screen - a further example of how TV and the internet need each other.

Reporting challenge

TV may still be much more popular, but the internet can add millions of viewers to some audiences.

More than half the viewing to ITV2's The Only Way Is Essex is online and catch-up viewing is almost as important for some editions of the BBC's A Question of Sport and Torchwood.

The Royal Wedding was live-streamed 72 million times in 188 countries, even though almost every broadcast outlet was showing the footage.

Dr Eric Schmidt Dr Eric Schmidt said that the internet is transforming the way television works

This was the underlying theme of the festival - not which of the two was going to "win", but their convergence, and how this is changing the way people watch and engage with programmes, often using two screens at a time.

"The internet is fundamental to the future of television because it is a platform for things that traditional TV cannot support," said Dr Schmidt.

"I think we're on the cusp of a golden age for TV - a vast choice, made manageable by a magical guide, ensuring there's always something wonderful to watch."

The internet enables us to have mobile and video-on-demand devices such as the iPad, Sky+ and the iPlayer, and services such as iTunes; electronic programme guides, which help viewers find programmes and channels more easily; and social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook which let people share comments and draw attention to compelling programmes, through hashtags and the "like" button.

It was Twitter that alerted the world to Alex Crawford's remarkable Sky News reports from Tripoli, as she joined the rebel convoy on its triumphant progress into the Libyan capital, through thousands of cheering people, hugging and kissing the soldiers.

In a memorable Worldview session at the festival, the award-winning reporter was interviewed live from Tripoli with her camera crew.

She vividly described the technological challenge of bringing the pictures to the world, with a lap-top linked to the satellite, balanced on the bonnet of the pick-up truck, powered by the vehicle's cigarette lighter.

And she reminded the audience of the continuing importance of experienced reporters from established news organisations, in an age when anyone can upload video and other "user-generated content" to the internet.

"People didn't believe what was happening in Tripoli til they saw the pictures - and a journalist they could trust, on the ground," she said.

'Giant predator'

But how is all this television content going to be paid for in the future?

Sky itself seems secure, with a firm base of 10 million paying subscribers.

Often criticised for not spending enough on "traditional" TV programmes, a Sky executive described how it was rapidly increasing its investment in UK drama, comedy and arts programmes, as well as buying HBO series for its Sky Atlantic channel.

Others are more concerned about their income.

Can the convergence of television and the internet help replace the advertising revenue being sucked away from traditional broadcasters and newspapers by the web?

In a session called Chasing the Convergence Cash, ITV and Channel Four spelled out their attempts to harness the new opportunities, but it was said that Apple's iTunes was the only service making proper money out of video-on-demand.

And what about Google itself, often seen as a giant predator?

Dr Schmidt denied claims that Google was a parasite, taking billions of pounds in advertising without investing in content.

He insisted Google was a friend of television, not a foe, and had shared $6bn (£3.7bn) worldwide with its publishing partners in newspapers and broadcasting.

It was also entering into a partnership with the UK's National TV and Film School, to fund a course in online film-making.

But John McVey of Pact said Google needed to pay far more before independent producers would consider it as a regular outlet for their programmes.

Google may not be a foe - but the consensus among TV folk in Edinburgh was that it's not yet a true friend.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    BBC telly is good television,as is beeb radio,a large part of my knoweledge has its roots in radio from the world service to the better days of radio 1 encompassing radios 4 & 2,i"m no real fan of Sky or ITV or local indy radio,the beeb can keep the aspedestra flying for as long as it wants its a worthwhile institution,informative & entertaining,sorry, cant slate the beeb.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    TV used to be the evening "glue" for the family. Now everyone's in a different room , or, if not, surfing on their own laptop, playing games etc. The Internet, for all its good points, can isolate the invidivual and lead to a break down in family communications.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    @58 Alan T

    Yes, I see they have added some archive content since I last looked, so perhaps I should have made a more recent check before making comment. However, I notice virtually all the stuff is documentary/news material. Still virtually no legacy drama or comedy. Better than nothing I guess, but still nowhere near good enough in my opinion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    TV is not dead, the only thing that's dead are the people who think they know what people like to watch as entertainment and these folks are dead from the neck up. When Sci-fi gets confused with soft gay porn I think some older members should join the program selection meetings since the 50+ brigade are the bulk of the live TV viewrs and very little is aimed at this market.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    I get all my media over the internet. The best entertainment by far is from TV companies. The best of this is from the BBC, of course - and it is downloadable, which is essential for those like me who depend wholly on a weak internet connection. 4OD downloadable like iPlayer, please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    There was an idea to merge 4oD with i-player, hopefully keeping the legacy stuff on the 4oD and extending it to i-player.
    However, with the massive archive of BBC programmes, what do you chose? Even 4oD has only a fraction of CH4's legacy.
    I'd like the whole archive of the film maker Adam Curtis put on demand, an example of the more innovative stuff, not on DVD, that would suit it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    re: #1. BMT 28th August 2011 - 18:43
    "Saturday tv has to be the worst day/night for tv ever. Its just drivel and rubbish"

    Saturday lost peak viewing night in the 2000s, Monday night is now the peak. That's why there's Saturday drivel. Sport on TV is one of the few things that can still attract an audience of any usable size for advertisers - though not huge (multi-channel audience thinning).

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Re: #7. PrussianBlue
    28th August 2011 - 19:48

    "Interesting that C4 is mentioned. As well as a full catch up service, Channel 4 offers a large amount of legacy drama, I find it disgraceful that the BBC hasn't opened up its own archives."

    Well they did (see but they have just made that team redundant! I agree it should have far higher priority than that action suggests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    TV is not dying. People may choose to watch in a larger variety of formats but you cannot beat watching on a large clear screen. Until broadband in this country reaches Far East speeds it will never replace TV broadcasts and even then you will stream it into your living room on your TV. TV's are being sold now internet ready so all we are doing is changing the way we receive the images.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    The usual moaners out in force I see. I hate 'reality' TV, soaps, lame quiz shows, yet I still find plenty of interest on BBC, channels 2 and 4 mainly.
    Good dramas, good docs, innovative comedy, maybe those who find it 'boring' are describing themselves.
    ITV is dreck, never used to be, thank the 1990 Broadcasting Act.
    i-player good too. Some here should stick to ranting on the Daily Mail site.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    It's amazing the amount of people that say that they don't watch TV and then promptly go on to talk about the amount of TV programmes they watch via DVDs or iPlayer. It seems like plenty of people are watching TV to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    I have a TV but only use it for receiving foreign channels from a European satellite dish. Yet I still have to pay the licence fee. As my TV aerial is broken I haven't watched any UK broadcasts for years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    The BBC channels are fine but I will not watch advertising. So make sure you record all programs with adverts and then fast forward past them. I will not pay twice for sky, once with a subscription and then have to watch adverts. If were not for the 4 BBC channels I would get rid of the TV completely.
    Please BBC, no more reality TV.... please

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    As long as broadcasting is financed by advertising it will pander to the lowest common denominator - and unfortunately the ratings war pulls BBC with it. Examples - all reality TV - Big Brother, X Factor, etc. . . American comedy imports, instead of well crafted comedies like Steptoe, Only Fools, Porrige, 'Allo 'Allo. . .

    TV is run by very lazy unimaginative people

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Folks - forget TV, the internet, DVDs, X-Box and all the rest of this pointless timewasting dross. Get out there and Do Stuff that will give you real memories to treasure - there's more to Life than this!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    I have not had a TV license (or watched 'live' TV) for around 7 years now, and am well pleased by my current arrangements. I got so sick of the banality of broadcast TV that I just gave up. Now, if there is anything I fancy watching (which is not very often) I have a neighbour who records it for me on a DVD-RW disc and I watch it at my leisure. TV as I once knew it is slowly dying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    A `golden age of TV' laughable was he smiling when he said that ?
    Its like a butcher commenting on how healthy a lamb looks just before dispatch.
    In the case of TV, especially the BBC it hasn't `healthy' for years, I have watched it for decades !
    The horizon program is schizophrenic, full of bongo drums, a weird camera angles but low on content.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    I watch BBC iplayer, fantastic shows WITHOUT ADVERTS. Do not watch any reality show..use my +box to record anything on commercial channels & fast forward the adverts. A hint for the news channels put all Celeb!! news at the end of the news.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Does choice narrow or broaden the mind? Choice allows you to follow your interests in unexpected and worthwhile ways, but you go in the way YOU want. Restricted choice forces you in directions you may not have chosen. Sometimes you are disappointed, at others you are entralled - given choice, you would have missed out. Choice can both broaden and narrow the mind and attitudes. Beware the latter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I do believe that TV has a place in peoples lives, I would however say that the content of TV is for the most part not good, ie some of these reality TV shows. One of the worst examples Geordie Shore, some advocate of the show say that it received good ratings, so would a hardcore porn movie, but good ratings are not a reliable gauge of good or acceptability content even for adults.


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