Jane Bradley: How to channel the Christmas spirit

We should forget the vast range of choices on TV and instead get everyone together to share the festive experience says Jane Bradley

There are more television channels on offer than anyone could need or want, and we would have more fun at Christmas if we all watched the same show together.

I hate using other people’s television sets. It is a world of mystery with which I just cannot cope.

I’m sure you recognise the scenario. You’re renting a holiday cottage, or staying at a friend’s house while they’re away. You settle into the sofa for a relaxing night, click the ‘on’ button and are suddenly faced with an array of confusing options, menus and buttons.

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Thousands of channels swim before your eyes. You click on one, only to be told that your host does not pay for that channel. But they do pay for the one above it. Which has nothing but re-runs of One Tree Hill. This other one they do have, but only in HD - and this TV set doesn’t support HD. It’s all so confusing.

And unnecessarily so. We have been conned into thinking that we need choice: the choice of hundreds of TV channels, thousands of nightly options of what to watch. We don’t. And it is costing us dearly.

A basic standalone Sky TV package - and that’s without any of the interesting premium bits such as films or sport - costs £20, according to the company’s website listings of current deals. For that, you get 270 channels.

Virgin, on the other hand, offers just 70 channels for its £25 a month package, which also includes broadband and weekend phone calls. If you want the bells and whistles of Sky Sports and Movies, you’re looking at a minimum of £50.

Yet even the meagre 70 channels is fifteen times the four - or even five choices we had twenty years ago.

It was a lot easier when you clicked the button and it gave you the two BBC options, STV and Channel 4. It was where most of the decent TV was. I like to try to recreate that simpler time by insisting that in our household, we get nothing more than the basic, free (it does what it says on the tin) Freeview package.

We still have more channels than you can shake a stick at, but the main benefit is just that the system doesn’t tell me about ones that I don’t have, hoping that I’ll succumb to some kind of superior package and pay half of my monthly salary in doing so.

In truth, most of the decent TV is still contained in just a few channels, especially if you believe a survey carried out earlier this week by uSwitch.com. It showed that almost half of premium digital pay TV customers in the UK are watching less than a fifth of the channels included in their TV packages. A fifth. That is just 14 channels.

Yet, the report revealed, the average yearly spend for premium pay TV is £508, or £42.30 per month, with almost a third spending more than £50 a month. For that kind of money, you can get the top channels: the Sky Movies, the Sky Sports. The stuff you think you need, but actually, will probably not get around to watching.

TV customers signed up to Sky, Virgin and BT say that, on average, they only watch a third of the channels included in their packages. Almost four in 10 watch less than 10 per cent of the channels on offer, while 71 per cent are watching less than half of the channels they pay for.

While it may seem as if the world is signed up to Netflix or Amazon Prime - or both, in fact, only six per cent of the population has used a TV streaming service over the past year - despite the costs being significantly lower than a standard pay-for TV package.

This vast choice of TV viewing just serves to dilute the national enjoyment we used to get from it - especially around Christmas time.

There is a line in a children’s book which is a favourite of my daughter’s, when Alfie’s Christmas author Shirley Hughes sums up the big day with her description of people “enjoying themselves, eating nice things and watching television together”.

And that is what it should be, but our vast choice of channels, coupled with the ability to watch TV whenever and wherever we want, has spoiled the magic.

The Radio Times recently issued its annual round up of the best Christmas programmes. They might not all be up my street - or yours - but in past times, they united the nation. A Christmas highlight would start and everyone would settle down to watch, whether it is “their thing” or not.

This year’s versions of classics such as the Call the Midwife Christmas Special, a final hurrah of the Great British Bake Off, Strictly Come Dancing and Dr Who are the kind of thing that mum, dad, kids and granny should enjoy together, yet they are less likely to than ever before.

Cousin Johnny will be off upstairs, watching a download on his new iPad, while SnapChat-ing his friend’s about the Boxing Day sales which will have already started - online at least.

The toddler will be trying to sneak an extra episode of Peppa Pig on the iPad when no-one is looking as Dad tries to catch the highlights of an obscure Boxing Day rugby match on his phone.

Granny might miss Call the Midwife at its scheduled time due to washing up and Lego duties, but will be able to catch up later on her internet TV at home.

Few will enjoy that cosy time, huddled around the television set.

In our house, however, my parents are visiting for Christmas this year. And there is one thing I’m sure about: whatever scheduled TV we do miss due to our 21st century inability to do anything at the same time, the Queen’s speech will be screened at 3pm and all of us - me, my husband, our four year old and the grandparents - will be made to watch it.

And while I’ll inevitably moan and groan and perform my usual annual rant about the futility of the Royal Family, I’ll secretly love it. Because we’ll all be doing it together.