Ofcom’s ‘most missed’ media misses the point

Which would you miss most: your iPod, iTunes or music itself? Let’s say you are only allowed to take one with you to a desert island. Stupid question right?

Today, you may have read about a survey by the usually very helpful and insightful Ofcom. It asked a similar sort of question. It found that young people say they are more likely to miss mobile phones or ‘the internet’ above TV. This is the first time TV has not come top of Ofcom’s most missed for younger people (it is still top overall). Inevitably, this has been seized upon by some as a worrying sign for TV.

It is all hypothetical obviously – no one has to actually choose anything over anything else – but there is no need for concern over what it says about TV anyway (even when it was top for everyone we never paid too much attention to it), and I’d like to explain why.

The fundamental problem is that Ofcom talks about content (TV), hardware (mobiles) and delivery systems (the internet) as though they are all the same thing. Worse still, it implies they are competing with each other, which is patently nonsense.

‘TV’ used to be about watching content shown on one piece of hardware (a TV set) and delivered via one system (analogue broadcast). This is no longer the case. TV is now content enjoyed on a variety of devices, including mobiles, and delivered in a variety of ways, including via the internet.

It is certainly true that younger people like watching TV via the internet (sometimes on mobile devices). But it also true that younger people’s viewing of linear TV on TV sets has increased in recent years (according to actual, measured viewing by BARB). And, according to IPA Touchpoints, TV accounts for the majority of their time spent with any media (the internet is second, and some of that time is spent watching TV online, and a great deal of the rest of it involves being online whilst watching TV at the same time).

Far from showing worrying signs for TV, Ofcom’s research indicates how convergence is arriving. But it is important to remember that it is content that motivates people most, and that is a good thing for TV as a whole.

Watching TV live as it is broadcast and on the large screen in the living room and in the company of other people is our preferred way to watch TV because it is a better experience – this is one of the reasons why linear TV viewing has been growing to reach record levels in recent years.

But this is not the only TV experience available. So let’s assume that Ofcom meant the TV set by ‘TV’, which would make a little more sense. If people are forced to choose between a TV set and ‘the internet’, or a mobile device that delivers the internet (and with it TV), then it is unsurprising if they sacrifice the TV set. They don’t actually lose TV; they lose the best way of watching it. Luckily we don’t have to choose in real life.

I’d go so far to suggest that if Ofcom had asked young people thirty years ago whether they would prefer their TV set or their communication with their friends and peers (which is how they use the internet AND mobile a majority of the time) then I believe the latter would have won hands down…even if that communication had to be carried out from the telephone box on the corner of the street (as in my case).
In fact, it is perhaps surprising that Ofcom found a quarter would happily lose the internet rather than the TV set. It says something about how highly many people value the quality TV experience.

So I’m sure Ofcom’s question about most-missed media was well intentioned but ultimately it is rather confused and a little misleading.

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  • Jeremy Lee

    And also makes you wonder just how qualified those wonks are over at Ofcom are to do their job.

  • Rodger Stanier

    Excellent insight, very well put. Procrastination, my biggest bug bear. (I wrote this six weeks ago and only got round to posting it now)