It looks like a duck. It must be a horse.

Has Samuel Beckett become a headline writer at The Guardian? I ask because one of their recent headlines was so absurd, so fist-bitingly contradictory that I spat out my snail porridge and had to have a lie down.

The piece was about Hulu launching in the UK. The headline was: ‘With all this online, why watch TV?’

It might as well have been ‘With all this internet shopping, why shop?’ or ‘With all this blogging, why write?’.

It’s times like this I wish I could ban headlines, or at least vet those that have the words TV and online in them. Headlines are the boastful show-off who wants your attention and is willing to say anything to get it. This is fine with straightforward issues like ‘Man found hanging out of goat’ or ‘England cruise to Ashes victory’, but most media and advertising issues are more nuanced. There’s no little irony in the fact that they can’t always be reduced to catchy slogans.

This particular headline evoked a definition of TV from the 1950s. But things have moved on a bit since then.

The problem is a misunderstanding of TV’s relationship with the internet. TV is about content; the internet is one of the ways we can now deliver it to anything with a glass screen. They are wildly, lovingly and blissfully complementary. They are not on two sides of a fence.

When TV content crosses into cyberspace, it doesn’t magically stop being TV (although some start weirdly calling it video). In fact, simple, free catch-up TV online is stopping viewers falling out of the broadcast stream. It’s a trampoline that bounces them back in.

Most importantly of all, if you ask non-media people what they’re doing when they watch Corrie, Peep Show or The Gadget Show online they’ll say they’re “watching TV…on the internet/my computer”.

If it looks like a duck…

  • Jeremy Lee

    Totally agree Tess. The only difference – and it is a significant one – is the price differential in advertising around content online and on TV. This is something that the broadcasters have to resolve and fast if decent content will continue to be made.

  • Daniel Farey-Jones

    Agree too, but somewhere buried (too) deep inside that headline there’s the concept that there is extra choice on the internet through Hulu that you can’t get so easily through your TV (the screen in your living room). Through-the-TV on-demand services like iplayer and itv player on Virgin Media are starting to change that. I don’t have Virgin Media but I wish I had a way to get iplayer on the TV. Roll on Project Canvas.


    You’re right Jez. TV companies neeed to get to the point where a viewer online is as valuable as a viewer on air. But the price isn’t the problem ; in fact they are selling online TV at a considerable premium, and quite right too. The issue is the amount of inventory, but they are taking it slowly and responding to viewer sentiment and demand. But the transition for TV is a doddle compared to print, for all sorts of reasons.

    And Daniel, I guess what the Guardian should have asked is “With all this on-demand TV why watch linear TV any more?”. We think that’s probably the most significant question for the future of TV and, depending on Jez’s issue, something rather exciting. We don’t know the answer but looking at current behaviour it seems that somewhere between 15% and 25% of TV time will be on-demand, but that total time watching TV will go up – about 15%? – as a result. Getting on-demand to TV sets in living rooms is crucial. For most people watching on a computer is a bit of a compromise, but one that at the moment offers convenience and mobility. Our recent Me-TV research also suggests that, for about 80% of people, online TV services help people catch-up easily and hence push them back to the broadcast stream. Ironic but true.

  • Kevin Gordon

    Sky DTV are already doing it, merging Facebook with a multitude of other social networks to produce a super global network (TV channel on your computer) coming soon.