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.