Timing matters

Knock Knock. Who’s there? Time-shifting TV. Time Shifting TV Who? Time Shifting TV isn’t as prevalent as you might think

Yes, YES, nice image, but it’s nonsense. There’s no ‘whatever’ or ‘whenever’ about it

Rubbish wasn’t it. Let’s try again.

Knock Knock.

Who’s there?

Time shifting TV. 

Time Shifting Tee..  HARDLY ANYONE!

Yes, I prefer the Interrupting Cow joke too.  To get it right involves proper (MOO!)… comic timing.  Timing matters, as we shall see.

We all have our own pet peeves.  For me it’s people who pronounce the letter ‘H’ as haytch when it’s really aitch, and ESPECIALLY when they work in HR and keep repeating the offence.  But it’s a small thing and it doesn’t stop me from liking the person.  I’m good like that.

Another peeve is to do with how people talk about TV.  I’ve written the better part of a book all about television and the power it holds over us.  This whole blog is about that too.  And one big part of this relates to the clock.  Humans are free, free, FREE, to do what we want, any old time.  The Rolling Stones sang about that in the 1960s, and the Soup Dragons in 1990. But we don’t do we.  We may be free to get up, eat, work (up to a point), go to bed, see friends, drink alcohol and all the rest whenever we want, but do we?  DO WE?  I put it to you, politely but FIRMLY that we do NOT.  We normally keep to the same routines we always have.  There’s a rhythm and a routine to our day.  We stick to that even if we are free not to.

And part of the success of television is the way it fits these daily, hourly, rhythms – the TV schedule reflects our routines, but also shapes them.  Times of day matters a great deal, for reasons I will spare you right now.

So you can imagine how narked I get when a friend (or, OK, friends) who know(s) how much I believe in the combination of TV and time will blithely say, ‘Oh I never watch live TV these days’.

Now I can’t say for sure that this is a lie, but I CAN say that recording of TV programmes to watch later is NOT mainstream behaviour.  There’s plenty of evidence that many of the people who claim to never watch live TV are either deluding themselves, or suffering from some sort of madness that forces them to make things up.   Or they will ascribe such behaviour to their children, as if the behaviour of children is anything to be impressed by.  Children routinely turn me into the unmasked villain from Scooby Doo – they meddle in everything.  They’re thought to be so bloody savvy (that’s another pet peeve… the word savvy).  Anyway, let’s reserve judgement on how children will behave as adults until they have passed through puberty, got a job and taken on a few responsibilities.

Until they’ve done that, with all due respect, they can shut up.

The friends who know about my book and my passions really ought to be more tactful.  If someone tells you about a cook book they’ve written, would you say, oh, I never cook, and I don’t really believe in food.  Would you?  If you did you’d be very rude.

Anyway, I know that MOST of the viewing to, for instance, Ross Kemp’s programmes on Sky is NOT live, because the research person at Sky told us at a conference.  But TV stations sometimes say all that to excuse poor overnight audiences.  (see here, for instance.  But the time-shifted viewing is usually trivial).  According to BARB, about 10% of viewing is time-shifted – with a high of 18% for soaps and 17% for drama, and only 4% for current affairs or children’s programmes.

So the great majority of TV viewing isn’t time-shifted.  And it looks impressive when you graph it.

And then consider this intriguing blog post by Joe Arico, someone who had time-shifted a large amount of his TV viewing for years, and then decided to try something different when his time-shift device (DVR) conked out.  Money quote:

Living without a DVR over the past few weeks has taught me why I really love TV.   I didn’t think twice when my DVR went out — that is, until I realized the HBO show “The Newsroom” wouldn’t be recording. I immediately panicked, wondering what I was going to do without a safety net.

It was then I decided I’d just make sure I was free on Sunday night at 10 so I could watch it live. When Sunday came around, a funny thing happened — I found myself looking forward to watching the show all day long, and when 10 p.m. finally came around, it was glorious. I parked myself in front of the TV at 9:57 p.m. with a sandwich and a drink and waited eagerly for “The Newsroom” to come on — and maybe it was completely mental, but I enjoyed it more than any hour of TV I’ve watched in a long time.

This experience immediately brought me back to seventh grade, when the workload actually began to get tough and I got huge amounts of homework. But I always had an extra pep in my step on Tuesdays because I knew that night I would watch a new episode of “Smallville.” Back then, TV was more than a distraction from regular life — it put me and my entire family on a routine. We watched shows like “Frasier” and “Friends” together, and there was no DVR to record our shows if we weren’t in front of the TV at a certain time. This meant homework had to be done, dinner made and eaten, and everything else could wait, because there was no way we weren’t going to all be sitting around the TV at 8 p.m. watching our favorite shows together.

Maybe I’m insane, but I miss looking forward to my favorite shows every night. I miss being on a routine, and though it’s probably a lot more to do with me being lazy than anything else, I’m blaming the DVR.

Isn’t that lovely.  Live TV dominates even though we are free to watch when we like because the programmes feel more special that way.  It becomes an occasion.  It’s the same principle that explains why new cars are ‘showcased’ in a shiny show-room, not sold from the back of transporters parked in lay-bys.  It explains why brides are married in unfeasibly expensive dresses, and grooms in unfeasibly uncomfortable suits, rather than in leisure-wear… it sets a marriage off on the right foot.

I’ve never seen it explained as well as Joe does above, but most people are ahead of him, because they didn’t bother to time-shift their viewing in the first place.  Most people don’t.  They really don’t, even if they say that they do.  Honest.









You may prefer the Soup Dragons version…   Yes, you’re free, but can you be bothered?  That’s the thing







  1. Hi Jeremy, some of that rings really true – We “appointment watch” a few things – Dr Who – a few others. I used to build PVRs when that was still ‘geek-cool’. But I replaced my PVR, not with more live TV watching, but with “manana” – it will repeated some time and if it isn’t, so what.

    The more channels I have, it seems, the easier it is to turn off the TV and do something more interesting.

    • Hello Julian, I think flexibility is good – it’s useful to have some control over when you watch something. But live TV has something special. And I’ve become quite intrigued by theories about choice – more choice means that you are less happy with the option you choose. You may enjoy this film, if you’ve not seen it before. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO6XEQIsCoM

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