Jan 182012

Our aged Sky+ box has been skipping and freezing for a while and it finally gave up recently and died with a pop, it’s an ex-Sky+ box, it has ceased to be.  We’ve had a high-definition TV for some time and had always intended to upgrade at some point so this became that point and a new HD Sky+ box was duly ordered.

This resulted in us having to survive a whole day with just the standard Freeview channels. Before anyone starts saying “I remember when I was a lad…” I know this alone is a great leap forward from the five channels that were available on terrestrial TV until it was recently switched off. However it soon became clear that the number of channels were not the issue. The thing we missed was the recording features, having to watch programmes when they are broadcast and not when we wanted to watch. I now realise how little TV we watch in “real time”.

Our Daughter was the first to realise the potential impact of this and immediately claimed “dibs!” on the TV for 10:00pm that evening for her fix of “nine oh two one oh” or something. Without thinking I just nodded agreement.

I returned home that evening and after tea I settled down to watch some TV as usual. I then realised we didn’t know what was on, or what channel it was on. By the time we’d found something and come to an agreement to watch it, we’d already missed the first ten minutes.

We could have put a movie in the DVD player but we knew Daughter had already claimed “dibs” at ten so we wouldn’t have time to see one right through to the end so we didn’t bother. At ten o’clock we sat through “nine won oh too oh” which turned out to be some sort of inane soap opera. Just the kind of thing that would normally have been watched by the Daughter alone, while everyone else was out.

However, this turned out to be the only programme watched from end to end that evening. The majority of the time was spent channel hopping and saying things like “isn’t so and so on tonight?” , “we’ve just missed” and “where’s such and such a channel gone?”

The proliferation of TV channels have resulted in a proliferation of dross and repeats and I wonder if many of these channels would exist at all if you had to pay for them individually instead of them being free to air or bundled in a package alongside a couple of must haves.

Having a box that records your favourite stuff in the background, allowing you to watch things back in any order at any time is only one more step in the rapid evolution of television. In my lifetime we’ve already gone from Black and White to Colour. Then we got Video Recorders quickly followed by DVD Recorders. Then along came Satellite TV and TiVo with electronic programme guides and intelligent recording to hard disk. The picture is now HD or even 3D and selective on demand is starting to appear.

Ultimately there will be no need to record anything and all TV programmes will be available on demand, all of the time. From this it is reasonable to surmise that the days of programmes being divided up and delivered by channels will be replaced by listings by genre. Already the electronic programme guides have options to present content this way.

With the demise of the channels there will be no need to produce cheap “space fillers” to populate a channel throughout the day and so save premium content for peak viewing times. Each programme will have to stand alone and compete for viewers against premium content all hours of the day. Without financial support minority interest programming will cease to be viable and all television programming will focus purely of the mass market and we will lose a great deal of diversity.

For the more selective viewer now carefully managing the content of their Sky+ recorder they will have two options. Start watching “nine one owe two oh” or go back to reading books. Let’s just hope they don’t close all the libraries before that day comes.