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Do Ofcom’s latest findings really reveal we’re watching TV together?

Posted by Kat Farminer on 5th August 2013

If you work in consumer tech PR the announcement from Ofcom last week regarding family viewing habits could well have been old news. This is of course what we study every day in order to make informed audience decisions for our clients. However, what interests me are the social ramifications behind the headlines.

So apparently, more of us are coming together as families to watch TV in the living room. The crucial word here seems to be TOGETHER, but how true is this?

With the increased adoption of the smartphones and tablets for every generation of the family it’s rare for parents and kids to actually be enjoying the same entertainment at the same time. The TV obviously sits at the heart of any normal lounge but does one show really still keep people of every age engaged? With the exception of X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent then the overwhelming answer is, ‘no’. Instead, what we’re seeing is a family set up where they’re more likely to be speaking to friends, colleagues, clients elsewhere through social media and text messaging, instead of those sat right next to them on the sofa.

As Ofcom suggests, 53% of adults regularly multitask whilst watching TV. This was demonstrated at its best during this year’s Wimbledon final when a whopping 1.1 million people worldwide sent an average of two tweets about the match – I must admit to being guilty of this myself with a not so eloquent “What a hero, yeeeehhhhaaaaaa” – I was excited I have no excuse.

Obviously, the implications go beyond the social intricacies of whether modern technology helps us to communicate as families, more or less so than in the past. I, in fact, believe that while they might not be experiencing the same entertainment through a shared box in the corner of the room, the modern lifestyle and the shared experience of being in the same room can actually mean they communicate more. OK, so we are not actually discussing a particular show but so what? Instead we are teaching our parents to use social media or trying to engage them in what we want to watch. We may even be doing this through our technology – there’s nothing quite like being lazy.

One clear benefit of all this is for the consumer technology brands. The increased awareness of TV recording and catch up players means that although the number of households with more than one TV has fallen by 6% in the last decade, it is not strictly true people are watching less TV. Instead, 22% of families are watching different devices to consume their entertainment, proving the way we watch TV is no longer centred around having to sit down to catch a live show.

The experience of recording our own content or choosing when we have time to watch our favourite shows is big business for broadcasters and those providing the tech to make this possible.

We are seeing a rise in the amount of companies trying to get a piece of the action, for example the recent introduction of YouView into the set top box marketplace or the fact we are seeing a broad range of gaming console companies attacking the market with ‘content’ features, like LOVEFiLM through your Xbox.

Overall, I think the way we watch content is still fundamentally the social experience it always was. Just now, you’re less likely to be chatting to your mum on the sofa next to you, she will still be there, but so are all of your mates too. At the tap of a button you can exclaim to anyone who’ll listen your delight at the latest goal Man U score or our anger at the latest Eastenders’ cliffhanger. Ironically, if someone had told us 50 years ago this is what we’d all being doing you might have thought them mad, but it seems we’re all tech hungry, status update loving sheep that remain eager to find out what everyone else is watching in case we are missing out. As long as it remains that way, tech brands are certainly onto a winner.

photo credit:

Kat Farminer