The reason for TV’s all-encompassing digitalness is that, in the early hours of this morning, someone switched off what was left of the analogue TV signal (deliberately; they didn’t accidentally lean against the switch). So if you want non-digital TV, then you’d better leave these shores because digital is all we’ve got now. And Digital UK deserves high praise for delivering digital with minimal fuss.
Of course, digital TV has been most of what we’ve had for quite some time now, so today is more symbolic than seismic; it is the final, tiny step on a long journey that began well over a decade ago. But nonetheless it gives me a nifty excuse to remind everyone that TV is a digital medium and that digital has never been anything but good news for TV. I like having excuses to do this because there are still some people who get confused and think digital is something in opposition to TV, or that digital = the internet. You may know one of two of them. From now on, they have no excuse.
And in honour of today’s new chapter in TV’s digital life, I thought it worth spending a moment to remember some of the things digital has given TV, as they can be very easy to take for granted.
The first thing is choice – sometimes even the agony of choice. Digital TV, however it arrives in your life on whatever screen, has expanded the amount of TV we have to choose from. It took us from a handful to hundreds of channels. There is now a channel for pretty much anything you feel like watching at any time. For advertisers this is very good news; happier viewers watching what they have actively chosen to (not just what was on) are a better audience for advertising.
Allied to more choice is the fact that digital technologies have meant we never have to miss what we want to watch. The digital TV recorder – now in half of UK homes – means many of us can plan in advance not to miss the things we love. And if you don’t have one, or forgot to programme it, then there are a flock of catch-up services available so you can watch on-demand, or +1 channels if you’re just a bit behind, or streamed broadcast services so you can watch live on the bus if you need to.
Then there is interactivity, which started with conversations on the couch, then took in the red and green button, and is now entering a golden age thanks to multi-screening. People are now happy to use a companion screen to chat, discover, play and buy as they watch TV (some people control their TVs via motion sensor technologies like Xbox Kinect). We discovered from our Screen Life research that this increased interactivity is bringing viewers closer to TV and helping them enjoy it even more. It is also making TV advertising even more effective.
And then there is also the quality of what we see on our screens. We have been treated to a never-ending stream of digital improvements on-screen which has included widescreen, HDTV, 3DTV, and surround sound. The quality we now have is incredible, even if you compare it with just a few years ago.
So, as TV waves goodbye to analogue and embraces its solely digital future, it is worth remembering how amazing the last decade has been for TV. But it is also worth remembering that, despite the changes and benefits brought by digital, we still watch a lot of TV in much the same way we did before digital. Humans are analogue after all.
(You wait a decade for digital switchover and then two blogs about it come along at once. The excellent Andy Nairn’s blog on the topic is here and well worth a read).