Everest Quadruple Pleasing

 Because it’s there

Everest. It's big.  Very big

Everest. It’s big. Very big. 8,848 metres tall


St Paul's.   It's big, yes, but in a different way

St Paul’s.
It’s big, yes, (111 metres) but in a different way

Guy's Hospital. It's a tall building.  But still.

Guy’s Hospital. It’s a very tall hospital. 143 metres. But not like a mountain.

A matter of perspective

Efforts to get the world to take the threat of climate change seriously have struggled because it’s not enough to measure it.  We need to feel it.  Increased carbon dioxide, a warming of a few degrees, melting ice… they may convince our brain, but they don’t win us over.  And then a climate change denier will chime in by saying that the very notion that humans could damage the planet is the height of arrogance.   The sky isn’t falling, henny-penny, (they say) it’s ENORMOUS.  Just LOOK at it.

The most powerful fact in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was Carl Sagan’s point that the earth’s atmosphere – the layer of air we breath that sits between the ground and space – is very thin.  It is akin to a layer of varnish painted on the surface of a globe.   Suddenly the idea that humans might be able to damage the planet seemed more real. We can’t imagine that the atmosphere is thin because we’re surrounded by it, but we can imagine how thin a layer of varnish is.

In my day-job at Thinkbox – where we try to provide useful information about television – we’re often confronted with bonkers numbers from people who seem to be in denial about how popular the television is, and how engrained into our lives it has become.  For instance, you sometimes hear great excitement about the popularity of the mobile phone – we’re all mobile,  it’s the year of mobile, yadda yadda, and that it will replace the fixed device  And then you hear about people ‘cord-cutting’ (getting rid of the TV set), and surveys of people who would prefer to get rid of the TV than the phone…  usually illustrated with a picture of a TV from the 1950s. Or, the death of the schedule – can you imagine having to watch a programme at a particular time just because some TV executive says so?!  Get real grand-dad.

And why not? We don’t listen to cassettes any more and rarely buy records or CDs and readership of paper news is dwindling… why not telly? So long old chap.   I saw a presentation recently which compared the mobile phone with a handbag, and the television with a wardrobe.

A bloody wardrobe.

That’s because the truth is hidden by the lack of easy comparison.  TV can sometimes feel small, when pitched against the mighty mobile.

But it isn’t.  It’s freaking massive.

Time for a metaphor

Consider Mount Everest.  In 1924, when Mallory was saying that he wanted to climb Everest ‘because it’s there’ and he and Irvine died in the attempt, Logie Baird was almost (but not quite) making TV.  He was moving silhouettes about, which is like advanced base-camp (or like peering through binoculars to look up a mountain at shadows).   The first successful climb of Everest in 1953 – 60 years ago this week – coincided with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, an event which for many was the first time they had seen a television, or watched one.

And in the interim, television has taken over the world.  It drives our lives – our rhythms have been entrained to its rhythm (and it to ours).  But it’s easy to take it for granted.

Nowadays, Everest has been cheapened a little, with stories of over-crowding at the peak, pollution, obscure records and talk of installing a ladder to make it easier near the top. People with no climbing experience are paying to be taken to the top. The age range has expanded to a 13 year-old and an 80- year-old and sometimes there appear to be queues.  I can imagine Kevin Spacey explaining that Everest has been replaced by Box Hill.

But two things haven’t changed.  It’s still the same size.  And it is still the biggest.

So imagine the size of Everest. Its monstrous height. Imagine what a life-threateningly tall edifice it is.

The height of Everest shall represent the popularity of television programmes watched on television sets in the United Kingdom:  the volume of hours viewed.

So compared with that, how tall is Youtube? How tall is the BBC’s iPlayer and all the other TV programming viewed on computers, tablets and phones?

Would they be as tall as K2?

Or Mont Blanc?

How about the tallest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis?  Would Youtube – which is by far the most popular video site in the UK – be as tall as that?

No.  In January, Youtube attracted millions of hours viewed in the UK, and an excited person said something silly. If you added all the time spent on Youtube to all the time watching television, it would be equivalent to the Guy’s Hospital Tower being placed on the top of Everest. It would add 1.6%.  [STOP PRESS: In =Feb-April, Youtube rose to 1.8% as tall as TV.  I could change the building from Guys to one a bit taller to reflect this, but I like Guys and don’t want to use a bank]

How about all the viewing of TV programmes on mobile phones, tablets and computers in the UK, all of them, (where tablets alone are creating this headline), it would add 1.2%. Like St Paul’s Cathedral being put on top of Mount Everest.

That is all.   Bigger than a varnish, and you wouldn’t want to swallow-dive from the top, but in the big scheme of things, in an Everest sort of way, a pretty small thing, all in all.  It’s not even at base-camp.

In fact, if you add ALL the use of the internet in the UK.  All the time spent on Youtube, and Facebook, Google and the rest, working, wanking, shopping and banking, emailing, and… EVERYTHING (including watching TV programmes on broadcast players)  … it wouldn’t add up to a QUARTER of the time we spend watching TV programmes on TV.  (That’s according to the official estimates from BARB and Comscore).

So if TV is Everest, how tall would the internet mountain be?

There are 24 European countries with mountains taller than the ‘mountain whose height represents all the internet use’ (which would be around 2200 metres), relative to the TV/Everest.

So there.


Al Gore.  He’s talking about the planet and the atmosphere, but imagine he was talking about watching television on TV sets (Planet) and, say, watching TV programmes on other devices (atmosphere)