What is TV? – redefining an iconic medium

  • 3 minutes read
  • United Kingdom
  • 20/05/2020
Stacks of old TVs

Harry Harcus, UK MD, Finecast 

Once upon a time if you asked someone to define TV, they would tell you it was a box with a screen. It plugged into the wall and you sat in front of it to watch programmes broadcast on a handful of channels. Today, of course, that narrow definition doesn’t work – especially in light of the nuanced and complex responses we heard from over 1500 survey respondents and 6 workshop groups spread across the UK for our research project with DRG: Thinking Inside the Box

People seem to accept that we’re in a middle ground between a traditional understanding of TV and the rapidly evolving landscape. With new technology, platforms and production powerhouses. Only 14% of the sample felt what they consider TV to be hasn’t changed over the past 5 years.

Alongside linear TV, we asked whether other viewing options qualified as television, such as catching up through broadcasters’ video-on-demand platforms (BVOD), consuming video-on-demand content through subscription services like Netflix (SVOD), or watching videos on YouTube, social media and elsewhere online.

We found that BVOD is TV for most people (74%) and SVOD is moving that way (53%). But the others are not – YouTube was considered to be TV by only 9% of respondents, with social media and other online videos at only 4%.

What underpins these definitions? In large part, they appear to be need-driven. Linear TV, BVOD and SVOD all align in the needs they fulfil. Entertainment emerged as the overarching theme across categories, but providing entertainment alone wasn’t enough for an option to land within the definition of TV. Other more emotional need states often play a big role. To relax was the second most prominent need state fulfilled by viewers of linear TV, whilst for different types of online videos it was to feel informed or pass the time.

It’s worth noting that younger generations have a wider definition of TV with 12% of 16-34’s considered YouTube to be TV compared to only 5% of over 55’s. They’re more likely to consider online video to be TV, but they’re also more likely to be using it to fulfil more emotional needs – like relaxation and entertainment – and are drawn to the real, raw, personalised content they can view on the web.

Beyond need fulfilment, it seems that the device used is extremely important. In fact, people’s definitions of TV can change according to the device they’re viewing on. One participant explained it like this: “If I was watching something on TV… I’m watching TV. But if I was watching the same thing on my phone, I wouldn’t say I’m watching TV – but I could be watching the very same programme.”

Certain platforms clearly suit different devices, with snapshot short form and non-broadcaster content more suited to the portable and convenient viewing experience of mobiles. Although people aged 16 to 34 are more likely to use smaller devices to watch linear TV, viewers have an emotive draw to the big screen, and its ability to create a relaxing, escapist environment.

Out of the devices they use, respondents felt the TV screen was by far their favourite for viewing what they classify as TV. It might not be shaped like a box with just a handful of channels, but TVs look to be firmly rooted in our futures – with 85% of our survey respondents telling us that they think they’ll always have a TV in the house.

As businesses look to navigate the shifting ecosystem, our second phase of research with DRG is underway. Keep an eye out for the latest round of insights we’ll be sharing, which will further explore how viewers are adapting their habits and what advertisers can do to keep up.

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