Now then, now then

Jimmy Saville, among his many gifts, was acutely aware of how time slips away from us, perpetually moving us from now… to then. Hence his catchphrase, which was, I’m sure, a profound comment on the nature of existence itself rather than the irritating and patronising tic that some would have us believe.

Either way, Sir Jewellery draws our attention to the importance of ‘nowness’. It would be nice if you commented on this blog once you’ve finished it, but if you don’t do it now, then I suspect you never will, because the moment will have gone. Now will have become then.

‘Nowness’ is one of the reasons that watching TV as it is broadcast is so compelling. The latest figures from BARB for the first half of 2010 show that time spent watching linear broadcast TV viewing has increased again. Even in those homes with digital recorders, the percentage of their viewing to ‘live’ linear TV has increased slightly to 86.3% from 83.7%. Of the 13.7% that is time-shifted, over 80% happens with 7 days and a whopping 38.3% is VOSDAL (viewed on the same day as live). I didn’t just make up that VOSDAL acronym by the way; it is an official BARB descriptor. BARB doesn’t even publish any viewing past 7 days’ shifting or include it in TV numbers.

Let’s be honest, we all know that the longer something sits on our planner the less and less likely it is to get viewed. I’ve got an episode of Gardeners’ World from this March, all about planting a wild flower meadow, waiting for me. I wouldn’t like to bet on its chances of being viewed before meadow planting season comes round again.

On-demand TV services also show the magnetic force of the schedule with over 50% of catch-up viewing in Virgin homes taking place within a day of the original programme being aired. In fact, many normal people call on-demand TV players ‘catch-up’ TV because that is the overwhelming motivation for using them. They are trying to get back to watching ‘now’. Even if you choose to never watch linear TV, the schedule will be the biggest influence over what you watch on-demand.

Nowness – and attempts to either get ahead of it or catch-up with it – is why sneak previews are popular, why live music events are booming, why we want to see the latest cinema release the first weekend, why Peter Mandelson’s memoirs so boosted The Times circulation (although the supporting TV campaign had more than a little to do with it). It is also, sadly, a motivation behind the piracy that robs media companies – and creative people along with them – of some of their income. And that’s why actual live ‘live’ TV is even more attractive – the talent shows, the sport, the news – and not just because we might want to interact or participate.

It’s about the conversations. Twitter and Facebook updates are emblematic of our desire to connect in real time and share our experience of now. As such, they are a brilliant window into the fact that, even for the fancy media and advertising types that I follow, ‘now’ includes watching a lot of telly. ‘Social TV’ is the trendy phrase to use; it’s making watching TV as it’s broadcast even more magnetic.

Broadcast TV is a real time event that sucks people into its stream, that’s shared with our families, that’s talked about in the moment as well as the next day round the watercoolers and coffee machines. This was true back when Jim was trying not to drop cigar ash on his shell suit; the internet is just making it even easier to enjoy TV ‘now’.

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