I was reading a thread on Metafilter about television when I realised that there are now two ways to look at it. You can watch television, or you can watch a programme.

To me, ‘watching television’ treats television as an end in itself, whereas ‘watching a programme’ treats it as a means to an end. This means you can draw a pretty neat distinction, since if you enjoy watching a programme, you won’t mind how or where you watch it, or indeed when you watch it, as long as you get to see it. So I would hypothesise that such ‘programme watchers’ would be more wiling to watch recorded programmes, and programmes on their computer.

But television watchers – it seems to me that they treat television as a source of entertainment regardless of the programmes that are on. So it’s ‘I’ll watch television’, not ‘I’ll watch the Simpsons’. And it strikes me that these are two qualitatively different modes of television watching. I know a few people who vehemently swear against watching any kind of television, but when I say, ‘What about documentaries, or the news, or x, y and z?’ they admit that they probably would watch them; so rather than being against programmes, they are against the idea of watching TV as an end.

Now, this isn’t such a new thing, but it’s only relatively recently that it’s become possible to watch programmes rather than television. I know that before the days of the Internet and Tivo, you could always just turn the TV on when the programme is on, or even set the VCR. But the former takes a fair bit of planning, and the latter can be notoriously irritating to set up. The Internet and Tivo make watching programmes significantly easier than ever before.

Furthermore, it seems that the current mode of TV planning, scheduling and advertising is completely geared towards the old ‘watching television’ model, since in all fairness it was the only model up until perhaps three years ago. But no longer. I very rarely see commercials since I just download all the new episodes of the Simpsons, Enterprise, Friends and Futurama (I could download 24 as well, but I prefer watching that with friends – and since it’s on BBC, I don’t see any ads there either).

Adverts aren’t going away any time soon, and the programme watchers are still only a tiny minority of the total audience demographic. However, their numbers can only increase and the ad industry will have to adapt, or die. Personally, I would prefer it if they died and I got my product recommendations from user reviews, and that programmes were funded by subscriptions, but I think that’s wishful thinking for now.

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2 Replies to “TV”

  1. The simple fact is that advertising companies are way ahead of the game in this department. A classic example is product placement which has grown exponentially in recent years – while it is a more common occurence in movies it is still a very subtle way of advertising and one that is unavoidable even if you are just watching ‘programmes’.

    Also when you download programmes of the internet you are exposed to a vast aray of advertising – if you use Kazaa as many people do then this comes with advertising software built in and while you can use other methods to acquire the software this is just the equivalent of flicking channels during the break – something which hasn’t really worried the industry up until now.

    Perhaps the finest example of an increasing flexibility in advertising is your very own weblog – dedicated to ‘unfiction’ games. These were conceived as a marketing exercise and while not every example is advertsing based the majority are and this is probably a factor in their survival, if they prove consistently successful then they will multiply, however if they do not manage to replicate the popularity of AI then they will probably die out. However the basic point remains that advertising here is attempting to make you do the work for them by creating word of mouth in a relatively low cost manner.

  2. I don’t mind all types of marketing; I know that the AI game was a marketing campaign, but it didn’t bother me since I got something out of it. This positive-sum marketing is the way forward, I believe. The commercials I see on TV are almost always not positive-sum, since I just get pissed off when I see them. There are exceptions; I do like watching well made ads such as the Nike ones.

    Product placement can only go so far – how do you use product placement for toilet tissue or tampons? Advertisers aren’t staying still though – we might not see it in the UK, but Americans have to suffer through banner ads or constant ticker tape ads on programmes now. It remains to be seen how effective these super-intrusive ads will be.

    As for Kazaa, well, it uses banner ads. Most web marketers agree that they’re practically invisible to web users now.

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