TV Un-festival: Is TV dead? The Podcast

by Paul Pod from Flickr, Creative Commons licence

TV is dead? Long live TV. The afternoon session was a panel discussion recorded for a podcast for BBC Backstage. The verdict? It’s not dead, but some thought that big broadcasters needed to adapt to a world where consumers were taking more control of how, what and when they watch television.

Matthew Cashmore of BBC Backstage chaired the discussion with:

Brian Butterworth from

Ewan Spence of The Podcast Network

Michael Sparks with the BBC R&D

George Wright with the BBC interactive TV.

Brian says the death of television might be a bit premature. “We’re getting used to the convergence of devices, the computer and the television. People are discovering television isn’t what it once was.”

Ewan Spence thinks that asking whether TV is dead is a bit binary. “It’s part of a continuing evolution of media. The question should be whether the TV broadcasting powerhouses are dead in the water. The TV format is not dead. But these great big conglomerates – the Sky, the BBC – need to adapt.”

Michael Sparks of the BBC said that TV is certainly not dead. There are two different sorts of ways that people want to interact.

He seems to be talking about the sit back experience of scheduled TV and time shifted TV. Some people draw a distinction between the ‘sit back’ experience of traditional television and the ‘sit forward’ experience of the computer.

George said the question is not binary. There are still lots of people without an internet connection much less a broadband connection. Is there something else to sit along side TV.

Brian said that there had to be a definition to this question. There is an immediacy to live events, such as sports events or live entertainment events. There is still an important element to people sharing that experience and watching it live together. But there are other programmes that can be watched at any time.

Ewan said that people still want to sit back and be entertained. But the television landscape has fundamentally changed.

At the beginning, one show was broadcast from Alexandra Palace for millions of people, but now we might have millions of people creating programmes for one other person.

Television: A Shared Experience (unless you’re using the BBC’s iPlayer)

Michael Sparks Television is a shared experience in the home. Whether it’s television or the internet, it’s just another distribution system.

Matthew Cashmore said scanning the audience, “I see them downloading programmes via the BBC iPlayer”.

To which Ewan said: “No, they are all using Macs.” (…which of course the iPlayer doesn’t work on, unless you’ve got a new Intel Mac and load Windows XP.)

George: If TV is still dead, why are people launching new channels on Freeview?

Brian: They are just plus ones and archives. It has actually reached a place where it is just an archive.

Rachel Clarke from the audience asked: I want to see people’s reaction about using the web to extend the experience. Heroes. In the US, it had a complete shared experience on the web.

Brian was sceptical. “Is that an extension of it or just a marketing effort behind it?”

Ewan went back to an analogy of telling stories around a campfire. “After someone tells the story, people stay there to talk. If we take Heroes, it started on BBC2 five weeks ago. Heroes started in the US a year ago. A signficant number of people in the UK shared the experience with the US. They don’t care.”

George says that there are some people don’t download shows even when they can because they want to share the experience later with their friends.

But Brian said that South Park is about current events in the US and would suffer from time shifting. “People who watch it later, they think that it is just a show about swearing.”

Mike Butcher of Media Bites asked: Fundamental thing about TV is attention. Ofcomm says that people are watching fewer DVDs. They are ad skipping. People are downloading off of BitTorrent. What does TV do about this? It’s having to come up with stuff like Big Brother.

Ewan said that we still only have 24 hours for a day. Yes, people have many more channels and YouTube, but they also have the same 2-3 hours of interaction and entertainment.

Brian said that broadcasters must understand that the broadband experience is very immersive. One player that he iPlayer doesn’t provide and that iMP (beta predecessor to the iPlayer) did. “You can’t transfer it to a mobile. TV is an immersive environment. It needs to go where people go.”

The issue came back to a shared experience.

Matthew said that Ian Forrester with BBC Backstage watches a lot of his video via the internet.

He doesn’t buy the idea that TV is a shared experience. Sitting down at 830pm every night to watch the Daily Show filled him with fear. He has downloaded shows that his friends. He said:

I call it content or media. I don’t call it TV.

Ewan said: “The screen is the television. What’s behind it has changed it. TV is fracturing.”

But George Wright challenged the claims that change in television was anything new. Always changed. From black & white, colour, You’ve got the old the view of televison.

Ewan: It fractured in 1979 when we got a portable television. You can choose to have a shared experience around broadcast television, around watching via the internet or a monastic experience.

Matthew asked: How do television executives keep bums on seats?

Brian said that they should banish DRM – digital rights management. People want to take their media where they want and watch it where they want. Television executives should stop trying to tell consumers what to do.

Ewan said that once you give people a tiny bit of control, which is what the internet does, they will take that. People in the industry understand DRM, but average people don’t care. People choose not the broadcasters. The only thing that will attract, good, high quality content. Will TV viewers drop, yes. Will quality drop, it better not.

Michael: It boils down to decent stories and decent story telling. It’s not about DRM. It’s about stories.

George: We’re looking for new genres. There are more ways to tell stories. We’re just in the silent movie stage of telling stories.

Ian: It’s not about the technology. It’s the content. When I watch a podcast, it’s about me. It’s hitting that niche. TV is broad brush. It is not about the user.