4 hours a day could be peak time for TV (or it could not)

In case you’ve missed it – and, if you have, it’s here – we’re now watching over 4 hours of live, linear TV a day. This is the most since records began. This really is remarkable and is worth taking a moment to consider.

There are many reasons for linear TV’s pretty spectacular performance (in one year it has increased, on average, by 2 hours a week per viewer). The take-up of new TV technologies like DTRs; on-demand TV services – which we now know lead people back to watching linear TV; the economic and weather climates; the new measurement system introduced by BARB in January last year…and of course fantastic TV shows.

The press releases Thinkbox issues on a quarterly basis announcing the BARB figures have been rather similar for the last couple of years. Every one announced that live, linear viewing has increased on the same period the year before. The good news for TV was getting predictable. The only real difference between the announcements was the new evidence that was constantly emerging about how technologies and activities that people predicted might harm live viewing were in fact strengthening it.

Now however, it is not quite so predictable, so we’re making a prediction: live, linear TV viewing could well have reached its peak. We fully expect to issue a press release in the not too distant future announcing that linear TV viewing levels have either stayed the same or, perhaps, dipped a little from their current record high.

When this inevitably does happen, please don’t be alarmed or tempted to start reheating decline of TV narratives (interesting blog from Ad Contrarian on that topic here). Linear TV viewing has to stabilise at some time; we’re never going to get to 25 hours a day.

But remember that, alongside our daily dose of 4 hours linear TV, we’re also consuming extra helpings of on-demand TV via devices other than our TV sets (BARB estimates there is an additional 1% of TV viewed via other devices).

TV is now a solar system, not a single planet, and it is expanding as a whole.

 

For the record, the reasons why we are predicting a possible peak range from the obvious to the technologically-driven:

 

- 4 hours a day is already a lot – it is unrealistic to think it will continue to grow;

- Hopefully the economy and the weather will improve and we’ll venture out a bit more;

- Digital switchover is approaching completion in 2012 (we’re at 93% now); even though the nearer we get the less impact it has, more people having more channels has obviously helped fuel the viewing growth and this fuel will disappear next year;

- Longer-term, on-demand is coming to the TV set – once we have everyone with on-demand fully integrated on their lovely TV sets, it is reasonable to think it may stabilise our linear viewing; but overall we’re likely to be watching more TV as a result – and our desire to watch TV live won’t diminish.

 

For the moment, though, it is all academic and we should just focus on congratulating the TV broadcasters for a pretty special 2010.

 

 

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