We’re living in the Age of Television

I blame Kevin Spacey. A few years ago at the Edinburgh TV Festival he said we were in a golden age of TV. Ever since, everyone (us included) has been wanging on about it. It felt true, after all – everywhere you looked: great telly.

But the wonderful Alison Graham in the latest Radio Times has taken issue with this, and rightly so. She has pointed out that this isn’t a golden age of television; it is THE age of television. TV has always been golden. It seems so obvious now she’s said it.

The signs were there but easier to see if you imagine their absence. Imagine the media without TV and TV stars to celebrate or censure. Imagine conversations at work without TV to fuel small talk. Imagine culture itself without its deeply embedded references to TV and, let’s be honest, TV advertising too. Then there’s all the time we actually spend watching the lovely stuff.

Yes, we could fill the chasm with other things – netball is a surprisingly under-reported sport – but we don’t have to. What’s more, we don’t appear to want to.

In the current period of the Age of Television we’re seeing lots of newcomers. The TV production industry will benefit from Facebook, YouTube, Apple and Snap starting to lower themselves gingerly into TV’s waters, though without the reassuring floats of regulation and JIC measurement.

They join broadcasters around the world who have been expertly swimming and occasionally inventing a variety of strokes – drama, comedy, documentary, news, sport, kids, reality, constructed reality, gameshows… – for many years. And they join the SVOD services who have made quite a splash recently.

As new companies try to do TV it is worth noting a comment by Channel 4’s Jonathan Allan at The Big Think. He pointed out that you can’t do TV as a sideshow. You have to do it 24/7. We’ll see what happens.

Either way, this is TV’s time alright. We’re spoilt for choice with more brilliant TV than you can shake some Dragon Glass at. You can discover some of the autumn highlights from the commercial broadcasters here courtesy of Mr John Plunkett.

Viewers have never had it so good. We can and often do have it all, as BARB has highlighted when showing that subscribers to Netflix or Amazon often also subscribe to a pay-TV service such as Sky or Virgin Media. This is because they are “a segment of the population who quite simply love television”.

In the high quality stakes the SVOD services are now competing with the broadcasters, especially in drama which these services have ploughed money into. “The Crown” on Netflix cost £100 million, the most expensive TV series ever made.

Much is made of the deep pockets the likes of Amazon and Netflix have. Just imagine the size of their trousers. But we should retain a sense of perspective. Combined, Netflix and Amazon are said to be planning to spend almost £10 billion on content in 2017. Not to be sniffed at, but remember this is a global figure.

No global figure exists for TV broadcasters, but you can get an idea of their investment. In the UK (just the UK), the TV broadcasters spent £7.3 billion on shows last year, according to Ofcom. In the US, programming investment by ad-supported TV networks alone is projected to be around £40 billion according to SNL Kagan. One can only imagine how eye-watering a global TV figure would be.

So, welcome to the Age of Television. You’ll probably be in it for the rest of your life.

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