PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

More means less
Januray 1998

Strap yourselves in tightly for white knuckle ride of the Brave New Age of digital broadcast media. It's going to be a rocky ride for the traditional broadcasters, who appear to be much like a bunch of turkeys trying their very best to turn every day into Christmas day.

Consider this: the average TV viewer watches just over 3 hours a night, and falling. One of those three hours is spent on soaps, another on news. This means one hour on "discretionary" viewing, and so with 30-odd channels to chose from in a cabled/dished premises, this means that the competition of the optional daily hour is steep, and getting steeper.

The broadcasters seem to have no semblance of any plot that we can understand. As long ago as eight years, trials of "interactive online TV" were being done with selected groups of bemused punters who have never shown any inclination to care about the thing, although those involved in delivering the trial stuck grimly to their task in the hope that one day a magic formula would emerge that would help the broadcast industry devise a formula that would fuel their money printing machinery. Would you prefer to plug away with a TV remote for home shopping and banking through a version of teletext on an eye straining TV display - or would you use a web browser under the control of a real display and keyboard..?

Commercial broadcasters have grown up believing that TV is the ultimate license to print money thanks to the captivity of an audience that once spent 5-6 hours a day watching the box. In the early days, the nation rode mostly around bicycles and tugged at forelocks, as the squires swept past in their Jaguars. An age so beautifully portrayed in the film of the era - "I'm All Right Jack".

But not only do the proles all have cars now, they increasingly have computers, and it is increasingly likely to be through this medium - not TV - that entertainment is going to be delivered.

Well, all you broadcasting chaps, the bad news is that other forms of entertainment have flourished in recent time, and thanks to the combination of intensive housing policies, mobile working, Englishmen and women are increasingly moved to escape the cramped conditions of their ten-per-acre Barrett home for one of the numerous forms of modern entertainment that is no longer broadcast TV. Even Blue Peter presenters are bored with the formula, and their viewers prefer to hammer away at their PCs, playing the latest games. TV is plainly in turmoil, and things are not being improved by shovelling yet more of it into the ether.

Now consider the almost unbelievable state of affairs that Mike Bedford explores elsewhere in this issue. There are three different digital standards for the digital world ahead. Two require a subscription (something that the bean counters have grown to love in the wake of the cellular radio commercial model - which is itself no falling apart) the other doesn't, although you may need to learn French and German to take full advantage of the vast tracts of unencrypted entertainment on offer.

Have you ever tried to get Sky TV in more than one room in the house..? I thought so. Simple, wasn't it? And Mr Murdoch is so keen to issue you with more cards for all the receivers you need, isn't he?

I have a computer here, fed from a single low cost satellite router, that can deliver any one of 30,000 channels of digital TV/entertainment that potentially lurks in the sky over Europe. Moreover, a cheap 10./100 network delivers it around the building to anyone that wants to make their personal pick of the 30,000 channels. Moreover, I can also get that entertainment on demand.

Meanwhile, the broadcasters and cable companies continue to believe that TV under their direct control can remain the focus for home entertainment? I really don't think so. I was going to say "I wish I had a pound for every broadcast TV executive that was going to lose his job in the next five years" - but of course I can (and so can you!). Pop along on the web to your broker and start shorting companies with heavy commitments to this outmoded notion of broadcast. By all means "go long" in the stock of cranberry sauce manufacturers….\

Wide boys (and girls)
A brief straw poll of the local TV stores reveals that they can't shift wide screen TV sets. Hardly surprising since they cost more than twice an equivalent traditional 4:3 TV device; ironically, a 27 inch wide screen telly for around a grand has about the same number of square inches on display as a TV set that cost half that. The broadcasters are again forgetting the basics of broadcasting, namely the content. Trevor McDonald is dour and humourless in any aspect ratio. And men can behave just as badly in 4:3 as at 16:9.

The curse of the pillar box display is probably upon us all as you read this, the launch of terrestrial digital means that everything is being beamed out as 16:9 images. This means that the local TV repair men will find phones ringing even more often as distressed folk believe that their TV picture is gradually collapsing.

The broadcasters are now giving you around 30% less to watch. So the next thing you should do is apply to the government for a reduction of 30% in your TV license. And then you might one day be able to afford a piece of the wide screen future.