TV’s Got The X Factor

Print is dying. TV is dead. Digital is the future. Run for your lives!

I’m sure that we’ve all heard these sort of utterances over the last couple of years as the web, and its annoying nephew mobile, run rampant across the media landscape, pushing over business models with nary a thought for the hundreds of years that it took to put them up in the first place.

But whilst there’s no doubt that many media businesses are in trouble (today for example sees The Guardian printing its last ever Technology section) suggestions that web killed the TV star appear to be a little exaggerated. OFCOM today announced the result of its annual report and it showed that we are now watching more TV than ever, an average of 3.8 hours a day.

The report also suggested that the UK has the world’s highest proportion of homes with digitally enabled TVs in the world (88%) and that we send more texts than any other country other than the US, whilst recent research by Thinkbox suggested that 40% of Britons have watched TV at the same time as using a laptop. And it’s in these figures, I think, that we can find the reason that we are watching more TV than ever before.

Let’s take last Sunday’s X Factor final as an example: the show attracted a live, prime-time audience of nearly 20 million. And I don’t doubt that millions more used their digital TVs, as well as devices such as Sky+ boxes and more basic PVRs, to watch & rewatch all the added content on shows such as Xtra Factor. And, as well as sharing the experience by organising X Factor parties (don’t laugh, I went to one), hundreds of thousands were discussing the show using Twitter, a service that was born out of texting, the other thing we Brits do so well.

On top of this there are hundreds of thousands of people who have watched X Factor content on YouTube: if it weren’t for the fact that comments were disabled, I’m sure that tens of thousands would be discussing the show on YouTube as well as on Twitter. And that’s the point.

We’ve been talking for quite a while about TV content (AV if you will) becoming on-demand, and it is, though shows like the X Factor, along with sporting events like the upcoming World Cup Final, remain appointment viewing. But it’s also now part of another growing trend, that of USC, or user-shared content, where consumers don’t necessarily want to create content, but they do want to be able to share it and dicuss it with friends.

To paraphrase one of the catchphrases that was constantly heard at digital events in the early years of the decade:

Content isn’t king: conversation is king, content’s just something to talk about.

CNN’s webcast of Obama’s inauguration on Facebook was an early example of this, and there are bound to be more. But, whilst at the moment the discussion tends to happen on a different screen to the content, next year sees Yahoo’s big push of it’s new Connected TV services, which are essentially desktop widgets that can sit on special TV sets, allowing consumers to pull in snatches of the web on to the box in the corner of the room: if that takes off, don’t be surprised to see TV viewing increasing even more.

Thankfully, for those of us who still harbour hopes that the web will mean that the next ten years aren’t just a more mobile rerun of the naughties, it looks like this year at least the X Factor winner won’t be Christmas #1, as a user-created movement to put Rage Against The Machine at the top of the charts appears to be paying off.

Of course, as some cynics have noted, both singles are released by Song BMG, meaning that they’ll be having the last laugh whatever the outcome. Whatever, I’ll leave you with the (NSFW) song, and wish you all a very raging Christmas.

TV image by AMagill on flickr

X Factor Trendistic graph via MediaGuardian.

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