Neil Mortensen, Director of Audiences, ITV, has suggested that TV is now in its third age, characterised by TVs connected to the Internet, time-and place-shift our viewing, with more choice, more quality and control than ever before.
Speaking in a panel session on ‘Content, Consumers and Everything In Between’ at the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention 2019, Mortensen said that ITV research suggested that viewers have never been happier. “They are excited about the way TV is going as the balance of power shifts towards them,” he noted, admitting that this new age had brought disruption with it.
“The Linear TV model is changing – and it’s going to change even faster in the next few years,” he predicted. “Even the most traditional of viewers are beginning to take their first steps into a new TV world, making wondrous discoveries like the backwards EPG, or a Netflix login, and they never look back. Mainstream viewers are becoming less anchored in the schedule, and its ability to set the ‘rules’ is diminished,” he said, suggesting that the EPG is starting to show its age. “By comparison, VoD interfaces feel fresher and more relevant to the way we choose today – shaped by Netflix and the Broadcaster Players.”
Despite the emergence and increased viewing of such platforms, Mortensen said it was safe to say that television isn’t facing an existential threat anytime soon, with the reason that ITV was so sure stemming from the continuous work it does assessing the fundamentals of TV and what it is really delivering for humans.
He cited recent research in that sphere, with one study indicating that a major factor driving television’s continuing popularity was its low cost, especially at the margin. “Almost everyone has one or more television sets, with or without a subscription, or access to online television and video—even cord-cutters still watch television. The marginal cost of most viewing is therefore close to zero,” he advised.
“Secondly, television is thriving because it meets basic human needs, especially for relaxation and escape much better than other leisure pursuits. In short, TV is an efficient and effective low-cost human needs fulfiller.”
Separate research measured viewers’ mental and physical energy across the week, their motivations, needs and moods and their experience of ‘flow’ which is essentially a measure of engagement. “We boiled down the motivations for watching TV into four macro needs. Pleasure, Purpose, Togetherness and Keeping me Company … Pleasure was the dominating motivation. TV was more often than not tapping into the fundamental need for happiness and therefore relaxation … sitcoms, soaps, talent shows and drama all delivered ‘Pleasure’ in abundance, from Blind Date to Love Island, The Generation Game to the Great British Bake Off, from Cracker to Line of Duty.
Mortensen suggested that having another new screen to watch on, faster broadband, and perhaps even more TV, just isn’t going to change viewing fundamental patterns, it just disperses them differently across the week.
According to Mortensen, in the modern TV era there has always been around four hours of TV viewing up for grabs. “That hasn’t changed much as TV continues to deliver on basic human needs in a simple, cost effective and primary way. Yes, the future will continue to throw up disruption, technological battles, economic battles. BUT for the viewer it is a creative battle. And that’s something we should all be looking forward to with confidence,” he concluded.