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Social TV Viewing Going Out Of Style

January 25, 2010

We do not watch TV together as much as we used to. ‘We’re becoming more and more individualistic, and this shows in what we choose to watch on TV,’ says Jakob Bjur from the Department of Journalism, Media and Communication at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Bjur’s research on social TV viewing describes how TV watching used to be a social event. Entire families used to watch the same show on the same TV, and the next day people could be pretty sure that other people for example at work had watched the exact same show. But things have changed. What used to unite people is now what divides them. Most families have several TVs, and family members like to watch different shows in different rooms – if they watch TV at all. In addition, the huge number of TV channels and shows makes it nearly impossible to use TV experiences as fruitful conversation topics in lunchrooms across the country.

‘Forty-five percent of all TV viewing in 1999 was social, meaning that people watched TV together. In 2008, the rate was 37 percent. We are becoming more and more individualistic also in our TV choices, and I’m very sure this development will continue. We can no longer talk about TV as social glue, a uniting force,’ says Bjur.

More niche channels

Some shows, for example the Eurovision Song Contest and football matches involving the Swedish national team, still attract the masses. Yet the TV landscape looks different than only ten years ago; there are more actors, more ways of accessing shows and much fiercer competition. The increased competition has made the TV companies focus on niche channels instead of major crowd magnets. For example, TV 4 used to have only one channel but now offers around 30 channels across Scandinavia.

‘People still have stuff from TV to talk about,’ Bjur points out. ‘But the discussions often take place on the Internet in specific groups, not least when it comes to TV series.’

There is no doubt that the divided and niched TV audience is economically attractive: Advertisements can be targeted with great precision. Finding parents of small kids, hobby carpenters or fashion bugs has become an easy task.

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