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How television survives

03 April 2012


From Mr Simon Jones

Sir, — If Ted Harrison (“Why the switch-over is a good time to switch off”, Comment, 30 March) considers royal-wedding coverage to be the best kind of television, it is unsurprising that he has become dissatisfied with the medium. It is more surprising that someone who worked in the industry for so long understands it so little.

He argues that, because more than a third of people do not watch live TV, viewing is on the decline. In fact, that third are much more likely to be watching output they have recorded on digital set-top boxes than using the BBC iPlayer or DVDs. So the figure that he uses to demonstrate that TV is failing in the digital age is, in fact, evidence of how it is instead adapting to it.

Until social media, live television was beginning to atrophy. The BBC’s Question Time, originally a means of connecting politics with a mass audience, had lost thousands of viewers. Now that it is alive to a concurrent commentary by Twitter and Facebook users, it has had a significant resurgence. Elsewhere, the TV talent show has been reborn because of new methods of viewer interaction. These programmes may not be to everyone’s taste, but they are a sign that TV is making good use of new technology, as opposed to failing to use it.

Mr Harrison is right that religious television has never excited as it should. But this is precisely because it has concentrated on the live-event programming that he favours. But a service cannot be watched: it must be participated in. The technology now exists for some of this. That it has not yet been taken advantage of is more to do with the paucity of imagination of religious producers than a failure of the medium.

Third Way
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