TV's Tipping Point: Why the digital revolution is only just beginning
given at a Royal Television Society dinner
I was reading
an article the other day called The Dangers of Wired Love, about a teenage
girl called Maggie who helped her dad run a newspaper stand in Brooklyn.
was booming, so Maggie's Dad, George McCutcheon, decided to get wired
up, to help him process electronic orders.
total technophobe, Mr McCutcheon got Maggie to operate the thing, but
soon found out she was using it to flirt with a number of men, particularly
one married man she had met online called Frank.
all the known rules of cyber dating, she invited Frank to visit her
in the real world, and of course he accepted.
found out, went mad and forbade his daughter to meet up with Frank.
But Maggie nevertheless continued to meet him in secret.
father found out and one day followed her to one of the couple's rendezvous.
He threatened to blow her brains out. She later had him arrested and
charged with threatening behaviour.
story of modern times maybe? McCutcheon's fathering skills perhaps a
bit severe, and Maggie perhaps a little naïve? The striking thing
about this story is that is was published in a magazine called Electrical
World in 1886.
network that McCutcheon got wired to, and Maggie got hooked on, was
of course the telegraph. Those of us in technology like to think we're
breaking new ground, that we're creating history through the latest
revolution, when we're quite clearly not as the very modern Maggie McCutcheon
and the internet are perhaps more evolution than revolution: but in
a way that means the seismic shifts in society that they cause creep
up on us unnoticed.
cycles of change come round again and again - and people tend to see
them as momentous and more often than not, scary.
picture I want to paint today is one in which I show that the world
of TV is about to change drastically. But nothing's quite as new as
it seems. When the dust settled on both the telegraph's 19th century
technology boom and bust, and the internet's 21st century re-run, the
world still looked remarkably similar.
world has changed. Today's facts, free of hype, are that almost 50%
of the nation has access to the internet and that 50% of the nation
also has digital TV.
are witnessing at the moment in the UK is, I believe, a tipping point.
As more people have digital TV in the UK than don't, and as more homes
are already connected to the net than are not, so the rate of take-up
may actually increase, aided by a number of social and technological
forces coming together.
phase for digital TV will take us through to analogue switch-off which
the government is aiming for in around seven year's time.
media companies in this context will be those that realise the landscape
has changed and that viewers want to consume their media in fundamentally
different ways to the traditional image of a family, gathered around
the TV box, watching with rapt attention.
now, industry giants have promoted digital TV take-up by betting that
the consumer wants more choice of channels and programmes – more
movies, more sport.
stated that it wants eight million subscribers within the next two years
and realistically has 13 million homes in its sights, over half the
nation, and they've never missed a target yet.
of take-up though is not going to come from just offering more linear
channels. No – future TV may be unrecognisable from today, defined
not just by linear TV channels, packaged and scheduled by television
executives, but instead will resemble more of a kaleidoscope, thousands
of streams of content, some indistinguishable as actual channels.
will mix together broadcasters' content and programmes, and our viewers'
contributions. At the simplest level audiences will want to organise
and reorder content the way they want it. They'll add comments to our
programmes, vote on them and generally mess about with them.
another level, audiences will want to create these streams of video
themselves from scratch, with or without our help. At this end of the
spectrum, the traditional 'monologue broadcaster' to 'grateful viewer'
relationship will break down, and traditional advertising and subscription
models will no longer be viable.
TV has, until this point, been led by the commercial sector, but the
next phase could see public sector services playing a far greater role.
creative R&D for the nation, the BBC has a distinctive role to play
in creating the content, services and tools which audiences want for
this future TV world and which the market at the moment cannot risk
this background, new research from the BBC has revealed four new and
significant social trends that show that the way in which we consume
TV is changing forever.
we have been able to start changing our programmes and content.
these trends show that viewers are taking much more control of what
and how they view, they're joining in with their programmes, consuming
more media simultaneously, and sharing all this content with each other.
danger in ignoring such changes and TV could really do without suffering
the same fate as the music industry in the '90s. Pop star Moby in Time
magazine in early 2000 talked about, "the spread of instantly accessible
digital media, where music will no longer be constrained by the limits
of a compact disc."
him. Then again he went on to say: "Single pieces of music could
be 75 minutes long, or six months long, or virtually infinite."
You might not know Moby's music – but take it from me, infinite
Moby is a pretty nightmarish prospect.
it's not so surprising that people ignored him. But the facts speak
for themselves - three years later and 90% of music in Russia is pirated
and CD sales have fallen yet again by 20% in the UK in the past year.
recently that piracy had cost the music industry $7 billion in the last
the impact of the social changes I mentioned could be just as serious
for the broadcast industry. Addressed head on however and we might just
get to a digital Britain sooner than most pundits expect.
look at each of these four changes and the way in which the broadcast
industry needs to adapt.
consumers are taking control of their media consumption, choosing not
just the 'what' they watch but also the 'when', 'how' and 'where' they
people here probably know that TiVo and personal video recorders dramatically
failed to rock anyone's world when they originally launched in the UK.
just couldn't see the benefits for their £10 a month subscription.
homes with personal video recorders (PVRs), around 70% of viewing is
time-shifted: PVRs will mean we are able to finally break free of the
50 year long tyranny of the TV schedule.
back as 1950 the Daily Herald wrote: "Delivery of the new television
set starts a violent change in the habits of the household. Everything
stops for viewing when the tuning chart appears. Household timetables
are rearranged; meals are pushed forward or back."
Daily Graphic was even more dramatic: "Housewives are throwing
aside their aprons," "downing their dusters in droves,"
and "settling down in the front room much earlier in the evening.
The reason? Television."
control over TV viewing habits has been turned into a positive by TV
executives: we now talk of water cooler moments, of uniting the nation,
of event television.
moments have got nothing to do with scheduling and everything to do
with good programmes. With a new blockbuster film at the cinema, we
all want to see it and talk about it, but we don't all have to see it
on Tuesday at 8.00pm.
PVR is coming, make no mistake. Already hugely successful in the US
and relaunching here in the UK with a big push from Sky as I speak,
PVRs will become mass market in the next five years and make a profound
impact on programming.
mean advert skipping, lower channel/brand awareness and less ability
to hammock audiences from one programme to another.
world 'event' television will become more important, not less, and channels
that have a higher percentage of live programmes, or ones you must watch
live (perhaps in order to vote on the outcome), will win out.
anecdotal evidence from trials in Hull, the UK's most advanced digital
TV network, that audiences watch more, not less, TV once they have a
PVR, but they watch less of any one particular programme, basically
skipping through the boring bits.
Rooms is a great example of this: audiences would watch the first five
minutes set up, then fast forward through the whole programme, and catch
the last five minutes when Mr and Mrs Jones come home to find their
two bedroom suburban semi transformed into an S&M style dungeon,
courtesy Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen.
and programme makers, we should help bring forward this world where
the viewer is in control. It will help sustain interest in TV which
otherwise runs the risk of being seen as increasingly flat and inflexible
not least by the PlayStation generation.
create more programmes that come with the meta-data, the tags in the
programme that allow it to be chopped up and consumed piece meal by
the viewer. We should perhaps even create shorter programmes!
already learning from this at the BBC- here's an example of how people
can now chose what they watch, free from the schedule: first is the
News Multiscreen with all the top news items on demand, already familiar
to most of you I'd guess, and then an example of an individual story,
the Bali Bombing, with each angle of the story available in depth.
trend our research showed was that the audience increasingly wants to
join in and get closer to their media.
remind ourselves of some of the recent participation TV successes –
programmes like Test the Nation, Restoration and Great Britons.
programmes still offer very little opportunity for the audience to actually
shape the programme, or get down to the really micro-level of intimacy,
localness, and personalization.
wants to get intimate with their TV? Well it seems that lots of people
do. Traditionally we have always thought that TV was about lying back,
relaxing and at best, half-hearted interaction.
recent trials, again in Hull, proved otherwise - audiences want a lot
more than this. They want to create their own content either from scratch
or perhaps using tools and support that a broadcaster can provide.
In a fragmenting
society, media becomes a substitute for community. If TV doesn't fulfill
this need then our audience will find the media that does, the rise
and rise of games consoles, particularly the networked ones, and of
course the internet, are in part testament to this.
a clip of what has been going down a storm in Hull – people using
our tools to make their own content and broadcasting it.
becoming obvious to us that what we think of as quality programming
might need to be refined in the light of audience experience. For example,
audiences might be willing to sacrifice full screen, high picture quality
TV for a more highly localized, personalisable, timely service: the
news, events and local gossip in your town, delivered through digital
currently working on just such a digital TV pilot to see if we can use
our 50 local radio stations to bring digital TV news, focused not just
on large regions like BBC South, but on your specific county, Hampshire,
then your town, Eastleigh, then even more personal - your local community.
is you choose the focus. Could this ultra local TV be the shape of local
news programmes to come?
trend is about consuming more media simultaneously - which is fast becoming
people are watching less TV - this is a fact. But not only are people
watching less TV, they are also less focused on the programmes and ads
they do actually watch.
the under 34s, viewing now falls into two distinct camps: high attention
and appreciation for a few (and I mean very few) programmes, and much
larger scale ambient or even apathetic viewing for the rest of the time
the telly is on.
two facts worth thinking about: 1) 50% of all viewing is now a secondary
activity. This figure was 5% in 1952; 2) A third of the time that young
people spend on media is now spent on new media (that's mobiles, games
consoles and the internet.)
we, the industry, respond to this? We need to get off the 'slap a vote
on' band wagon to try and re-engage this younger audience.
As a public
service broadcaster, we don't want to neglect any generation and deny
them the benefits in terms of informing, educating and entertaining
which television provides.
new direction we are looking at in this context is to purposely create
ambient TV, TV that is meant to be watched with just half your attention
span, or just listened to, perhaps while you do something else.
of course exactly what radio on digital TV is, and it's no surprise
therefore that it's been a great success with eight million people now
regularly listening to radio in this way.
BBC, we are now taking this even further, not by creating TV out of
radio, but by creating a new type of service – let's call it enhanced
tune to BBC radio services on digital TV, you can get the digital audio
broadcast (DAB) text too, and we're working on more features for next
year – votes, webcams, message boards and so on.
different idea to come out of our Research & Development division
is to take the audio description that we do for the blind, where a voice-over
describes what is happening on screen in between the actors speaking,
and make this audio stream available to everyone through interactive
keep up with the plot of a drama whilst not actually having to watch
the screen. If you don't believe me, try shutting your eyes during the
the last trend – sharing. Broadband, which is growing exponentially
in the UK (up 200% year on year to around 2.5 million subscribers now)
will make downloading of decent video quality worthwhile, easy and cheap
via the net.
and sharing this video is the final piece of the jigsaw and will create
a killer combination that I believe could undermine the existing models
combination is Broadband together with digital TV and PVRs, plus the
ability to share this video in the same peer-to-peer model with which
music files are exchanged on the net.
will provide the rich on-demand content; digital TV through Freeview
will make 40 channels and interactive services available to the masses
for free, PVRs will provide the means to break from the tyranny of the
TV schedule and sharing will enable file swapping of personal, as well
as broadcast, content.
doesn't matter if this solution is built into a PC as with the Microsoft's
Media Centre, Sony's new play station or a set top box.
basically adds up to the same solution: a box and a screen – offering
unparalled video, TV, interactive and games content.
certain of is that this killer combination will be in half of all UK
homes, in one form or another, by the end of this decade.
near future world, you'll now be watching a combination of programmes:
some from existing TV channels, some off the internet, others stored
on your own hard disk at home or swapped electronically with friends.
need a pretty sophisticated on-screen navigation tool to find your way
around programmes or content that comes from so many different sources.
to think about what this tool, this Super Electronic Programme Guide,
might look like. The product in development is called iMP, the Interactive
Media Player, and our gateway to the future. It will work both on the
PC screen, when you've got a mouse in your hand, and the TV screen,
controlled by an ordinary remote control.
allow you to record programmes in advance, like Sky+ or the humble video
recorder. It will stream programmes live and will allow you to download
any content we have broadcast, say in the last week, in exactly the
same way as you can now access network radio shows online via the BBC's
internetl Radio Player.
to some radio programmes, like the Archers or Radio 1's Essential Selection,
have increased by up to 30% thanks to the internet Radio Player, and
there's no reason to suppose iMP wouldn't be as popular with TV programmes.
Here's what iMP might look like.
is where the Creative Archive, which Greg announced in Edinburgh, comes
in. As it is both part of our charter obligation to make our archive
available where possible and practicable, and part of our online consent
to act as an essential resource offering wide ranging, unique content,
it is through iMP that pieces of our content could be retrieved from
our archive, downloaded, and used for personal use.
exploring legitimate peer-to-peer models to get our users to share our
content, on our behalf, amongst themselves, transparently.
an industry, we should be more active in creating legitimate content
download products, whether that's as a pay-model, or rights-cleared
to help consumers leapfrog the illegal downloading issues that have
wrecked havoc on the music industry.
what we believe is the shape of things to come, a way for people to
search for whatever they are interested in – perhaps in the case
of natural history for a school project, searching from buffalos to
bears – and then download it for their use.
is of a 100% digital Britain, with everyone connected. We believe that
there are enough social and technological changes to indicate that we
might be at a tipping point, where we could see the take-up rate of
digital media increasing, rather than decreasing.
BBC, we've got a huge responsibility to innovate and put new types of
programmes, products and services into the market place to stimulate
interest and demand.
audiences increasingly turn away from the traditional concept of TV
and we increasingly enter a two-way, high-speed relationship with them,
and they with each other, we've got to run just to stay one step ahead
prototyping services like I've shown you, maybe getting it wrong sometimes
but sharing our learning with one another is, I believe, the way to
you don't leave here tonight resigning me firmly to the ranks of Nostradamus
or worse, Moby. I realise that these scenarios have a number of imponderables
about them and will play out over time.
reading all the signals wrongly, perhaps my Bush telegraph is wired
up incorrectly. But it's unlikely in the current market that anyone
will get too carried away on electric dreams, what we need to ensure
is that we as an industry don't suffer the same fate as the music industry.
no reason, given our world leading broadcast and content industry, represented
so well by the people in this room tonight, and the UK's track record
in innovation, that we can't be the world's most advanced, connected,
digital nation, with all the benefits in terms of an educated, enlightened,
tolerant society that this might bring.