While it is music to Thinkbox’s – and advertisers’ – ears that commercial TV has increased its share of viewing and that commercial broadcast TV viewing is continuing to grow, it certainly wasn’t our intention that this should be used as a stick to beat the BBC, as some have. There are quite enough sticks beating the BBC at the moment.
The fact is that, all things being equal, commercial TV’s share of broadcast viewing is likely to keep nudging forward – and the BBC’s diminish – for the next couple of years until everyone has digital TV and all the extra commercial channels that it brings. In that sense, commercial TV simply has a built-in, mathematical advantage.
But any advantage is pointless without skills to seal the deal. The strongest, fastest rugby player in the world is worthless if he or she can’t catch the ball. So it is all very well having the choice of more channels, but there has to be something on them to persuade you to watch. For this, commercial TV broadcasters deserve praise. After 2012, changes in channel viewing shares will be driven chiefly by programming and marketing, not distribution.
Other reasons for commercial TV’s success – which apply equally to the BBC – include a recession that makes free entertainment at home even more appealing, and new technologies – like digital recorders and HDTV – that make watching telly an ever better experience.
And we mustn’t forget that we are only talking about share of broadcast TV here. If you added on all the online TV people now watch, via the likes of the ITV Player, 4OD, Sky Player, Demand Five and most of all BBC iPlayer, then you’d see that the TV medium as a whole is growing on all sides. No sticks required.