Rebecca Huntley Columnist

Rebecca is a director of The Mind & Mood Report, an author and social commentator with a background in publishing, academia and politics. She holds degrees in law and film studies and a PhD in Gender Studies.

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Why TV time-shifting is a lot like sex

Published 20 February 2013 15:55, Updated 04 February 2014 00:15

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Why TV time-shifting is a lot like sex

Like to watch ... the number of people watching time-shifted TV is growing. Photo: Roger Cummins

Recently, I was sitting in a windowless room with clients talking about television advertising and the tools and devices (legal and illegal) that allow consumers to avoid ads and time-shift their TV.

One of the men – he has been around advertising and marketing for donkey’s years – said: “One question I always ask our agencies now … ‘how many people are watching it live?’.”

He is increasingly interested in spending big during “must-watch live” shows like big sporting events and nightly programs like My Kitchen Rules.

The next day I was in a discussion group of men in their 40s in Mascot in Sydney. Most were tradies or in retail, some single, some married, some renting, but none of them particularly tech-savvy or wealthy.

Avoiding watching live TV was a popular topic in this group, as it was in many other groups we conducted across the nation that week. Near the end of the discussion, one of the more verbose members leaned forward, beer in hand, looked me in the eye and said: “These TV stations and ad guys – do they get it? Do they understand? No one watches live television any more. If they do they are dopes.”

No one watches live television any more. If they do they are dopes.

Looking at our research (and most of the current quantitative data), I have to conclude that time-shifting TV is a lot like sex: people talk about it more than they actually do it.

That being said, our qualitative research shows all kinds of consumers are attracted to the notion of time shifting. No surprise, however, that it’s the younger consumers who are doing this in significant numbers. They are turning away from live TV and managing their own media.

They want viewing across all kinds of content on their own terms. In 2011, Screen Australia released a research report, Beyond The Box Office, which showed that while 96 per cent of respondents had watched a TV program in the preceding week (similar to the rate for the past five years), there were clear signs that “the ongoing strength of old screen activities should not be taken for granted”.

They identified a few segments – that skewed younger audience – who were most likely to access content via downloading on computers or mobile devices. These are the time-shifters who are going to teach us all how to do it.

The stumbling block to time-shifting growing even faster is the relatively slow growth of smart TV. I’ve written before about how people are DIYing their own smart TV set-ups at home, but more ground needs to be covered before we are all avoiding the ads and controlling all our content – social media, downloaded episodes of Revenge, podcasts the like – from one remote via one screen.

At that point, the question my client asks – “how many people are watching it live?” – will be more rhetorical than anything else.

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