Is the Internet changing the way we watch television?
By Nick Harding - Web Developer.
From the first demonstrations of televised moving images in 1926 through to the 1990s expansion of multiple channels and direct-broadcast television as we know it today, the way we watch television has long been dependent on the development of technology and the expectations of society. In today's world, ruled by the Internet, this is certainly no different. The term "watching television" no longer applies to sitting in front of a static set to watch programmes as they're broadcast live and has instead opened up to encompass a wealth of activities that have developed out of the need to fit the lives of the busy consumer. Cable television turned to satellite, +1 channels were introduced and On-Demand websites were launched but we cannot really consider the true extent of the change in our viewing habits without fully considering the role of the Internet.
Online all the time
As consumers are more frequently turning to mobile technology, and as companies are responding with the advent of ever-faster download speeds, “streaming” has become one of the most popular ways of watching television nowadays, especially if you have a very active lifestyle. In the good old days (or bad ones, depending on where you stand), if you wanted to watch anything on TV you had the choice of watching the limited selection available on terrestrial TV or paying a hefty subscription fee for premium and additional channels. Now, however, there’s a complete source of global television right at our fingertips.
A question of sport
Take sport, for example. Streaming football matches and rugby games live has become incredibly popular – so much so that traditional providers such as the BBC and Sky Sports now offer online viewing at no extra cost. Many sports franchises have realised there is a lucrative market for fans of a specific sport to be able to view what they want, when they want. For example, I support the New England Patriots and am a fan of American Football and the NFL, but while the major channels of Sky Sports, ESPN and Channel 4 do show about 5 games a week, the chances of at least one of those five being a Patriots game in particular are very small.
This, then, begs the question: why should I pay a monthly subscription fee with a major channel to possibly see the game I actually want to see when I can buy an NFL Game Pass directly from the NFL Website to catch the game whenever it suits me? The answer, of course, is I shouldn't and I don’t. I dropped the channel subscription some time ago in favour of the NFL Game Pass and, given that most of the other sport I like – rugby, of course! – is on normal channels, I save around £100 each year with the added benefit of being able to watch what I want to watch on my own terms.
Football fans face the same issue, with customers having to subscribe to two major channels with broadcasting rights or face missing out on some of their team’s games. At the moment, the Premier League doesn't currently have a product like the NFL’s Game Pass but, realistically, how long will it be before they do? The demands of the end user are beginning to outstrip the old-fashioned “you will watch what we show you” demands of the big companies, and I think it’s very clear that it is the Internet that is the major catalyst behind these changing values.
The advancement of technology
There is one major advance in web development that has driven this change and that is the security of content. It used to be the case that if you put a video online it was incredibly difficult to prevent someone from stealing it and using it elsewhere. Cue Digital Rights Management (DRM). Love it or loathe it, it exists, it’s staying and it’s what makes all the live and recorded online content possible. DRM companies, such as Apple, Sky and NFL, intend to control the extent to which material is viewed or copied, and therefore ensure that everyone watching the streaming content are legally allowed to do so. The use of DRM is by no means universally accepted, but what you can’t deny is that it offers online channels the opportunity to confidently deliver a variety of options to you, the consumer, whilst you in turn have more choice over what, where and when you watch your favourite television programmes.
So, is the Internet changing the way we watch television? The answer is a resounding “yes”. It no longer matters where in the world you are or even what time zone you’re in, the choice of what, when and how to watch anything has become solely the concern of the consumer rather than a consequence of what the scheduling gods dictate, and it’s through the power of the Internet that this larger amount of control has been granted to the individual. As with any technological advance, this way of watching television has both its supporters and its haters, but there’s definitely no denying that, above all else, it gives us all the opportunity to expand and revolutionise our viewing habits – who knows, you might even discover something new!