Britons' love of TV goes down the tube
MORE than 80 years after John Logie Baird transmitted the world's first television pictures, it would appear that UK viewers are finally falling out of love with the medium.
Scotland on Sunday can reveal that Britons are watching almost an hour less of television a week than we did two years ago.
After a long-term increase in the amount of time spent in front of the 'box', it would appear that viewers are now being drawn away by rival electronic delights such as the internet, digital radio and video games.
The latest figures from the British Audience Research Board (BARB) show all five terrestrial channels have been hit hard - the victims, according to some experts, of unimaginative and formulaic television.
The BARB figures show that in October the typical British TV viewer spent 25 hours, 47 minutes watching TV, while in October 2003, viewers watched for 26 hours, 41 minutes.
The two-year slump is the steepest recorded continuous fall since the current system of recording TV audiences began in 1981.
ITV, formerly Britain's favourite channel, is now being watched for 45 minutes less than in October 2003. BBC One has lost 36 minutes a week compared with 2003, BBC Two 39 minutes, Channel Four 19 minutes and Five 11 minutes. Terrestrial channels have lost a total of an hour and a quarter a week in just two years.
Even when the hugely increased viewing enjoyed by satellite, cable and Freeview is taken into account - up an hour and 35 minutes to seven hours and 54 minutes - overall viewing has dropped by 54 minutes.
Broadcast executives will have been cheered by last night's hefty audiences, which were expected to peak at 20 million for the climaxes of the two major entertainment shows: Strictly Come Dancing on the BBC and ITV's The X Factor.
But even these figures are a far cry from when the major channels could expect to attract more than 20 million viewers each. A November 11, 1979, episode of To The Manor Born on BBC1 pulled in 24 million watchers, and ITV's Coronation Street audience regularly topped 21 million in the 1980s.
For radio, a medium once regarded as being left for dead by the march of TV, the revenge is sweet. It is enjoying a boost in audiences thanks to the new Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) system, which offers a huge variety of services, makes tuning much easier and boosts sound quality.
Since January 2003, DAB radios have fallen dramatically in price, from several hundred pounds to typically 60 to 120.
Households which have a DAB radio listen to two hours more radio than their non-digital counterparts, tuning in for 26 hours a week, compared with a typical 24 hours in the traditional households.
While sources within the DAB industry admit there is no direct evidence that radio is solely responsible for TV's decline, the figures suggest radio may at least be playing its part. At the beginning of 2003, fewer than 2% of households had a DAB radio in their home. That figure increased to 4.5% of households by the end of 2003 and 10.5% last year. The number is expected to rise to as much as 15% by the end of this year. And a third of adults use digital, satellite and cable TV to play the new radio stations.
Speech and comedy-based BBC7 is one of DAB's most successful channels, attracting 631,000 listeners a week. The channel features TV's Susannah Harker and Paul McGann in a new radio version of Doctor Who. The new music station BBC6 Music showcased Glasgow-singer KT Tunstall in its main summer concert.
TV is also being squeezed by other new technologies. A recent study by the British Computer Society showed that the typical computer user spent 10 hours a week at home on their machine. And research into console-playing habits shows that the average British gamer plays 11 hours a week, according to a study published earlier this month by the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association.
Karen Ross, professor of mass communication at the University of Coventry, said: "There are simply far more diversions. I know from the students I work with that they are watching very little TV and spend much of their time in online chatrooms.
"The problem is that the same genres of programmes are being done to death. People are sick of reality TV and gardening and home shows. There's a real problem for the industry because they are losing the younger viewers and they are not coming up with any new formats for shows."
Robert Beveridge, a lecturer in media policy at Napier University, said: "These figures are very interesting. There are too many repeats and too much of the same stuff. I can't be bothered half the time looking through all the listings.
"There is less money and effort going into producing top-quality shows, and the few really good shows are so heavily trailed that you feel you have seen it before it comes on air."
David Bird, a senior analyst with the market research company Mintel, which last month published a study into the TV market, said: "We are seeing a number of trends in TV watching. The rise of the internet is huge and it means that people no longer need to wait around to watch the news. But it also means that people have more entertainment options.
"The growth of the digital channels means that viewers are becoming used to watching only what they want."
His study highlighted reasons for viewers shunning TV, including the view that TV has dumbed down, more home internet access, and even the fact that so many office-workers work in front of screens and want a break when they return home. It said: "It would seem that people who regularly watch more than 3.5 hours of television a day is reducing."
But Bird added that TV might soon fight back using new technology. He said: "We are beginning to see the launch of television on mobile phones. Now that could be huge."
A spokesman for Sky TV said: "Multi-channel TV has never been about watching more TV but giving people the choice to watch what they want. We offer entertainment, arts and documentaries as well as sport and films and people are choosing our packages."
A spokeswoman for ITV said: "I think it's clear that TV in general faces a lot of competition, and that is something for the whole industry to deal with."
No one from the BBC was available for comment.
WHY WATCH TELEVISION WHEN YOU CAN PLUG IN YOUR PLAYSTATION?
Oriana Franceschi, 15, from Edinburgh, gives her view of modern television:
APPARENTLY I'm the kind of person television companies are trying to get to watch TV. I don't think so somehow...
I enjoyed the torture of Peter Andre on I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! as much as the next person, but hasn't the novelty of watching Z-list celebrities dunk their hands into boxes of creepy-crawlies worn out just a little?
It seems like there are thousands of channels but only about four kinds of shows: reality shows, "like soooo American" comedy, depressing soaps and cheesy kids' shows with presenters who must seem patronising to even the most childish of five-year-olds.
There really don't seem to be any new kinds of shows coming out now. Or any new shows for that matter. Friends is over, let it go. It was brilliant while it lasted but now constant repeats of programmes like Friends and Frasier seem to be all that's on.
Why use your TV to watch repetitive drivel when you can plug your PlayStation into it instead?
You can play games on the internet too and then, of course, there's the online chat network. You've got to love it. You can spend the whole day with your friends, go home, and at the click of a button you're practically with them again.
On top of this, every time we do switch on the TV we're bombarded with adverts encouraging you to live more healthily and do plenty of exercise which makes you think: "Well, what am I doing slumped on my couch with a box of Celebrations then?"
Ultimately, it seems that television itself is persuading us not to watch it with its repetitive shows - especially reality TV - and the life it is encouraging us to lead.
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