Julian Clover on a year of downturns, spindowns, and upwardly mobile technologies.
Recessions are funny things and 12 months ago you might have wondered if there would be a TV industry to write about at the end of 2009. But we are a broad church, and those soothsayers that reckoned on pay-TV being more resilient than TV advertising were largely on track.
Of course it depends where you sit, and we all know someone now sitting at home, rather than in the arguably more comfortable office chair. There is also the question of subscriber numbers. Remember the journalists’ rule. If it hasn’t been made public, then it probably isn’t very good.
The argument is that pay-TV is resilient against recessionary pressures because people prefer to stay at home with their movie subscription because this is a cheap form of entertainment. Sky found this to be true, though there was the slightest hint that there may have been some spindown to smaller packages, not that there was any indication from the subscriber numbers that continue to reach new heights.
Spain has not been quite so lucky, the indebted cablenet ONO is facing falling subscriber numbers in the most unpleasant of economic environments. Its satellite compatriot Digital+ is not faring much better, its parent Sogecable appearing as if it is perpetually for sale.
Generally speaking if a platform is doing badly then it has continues to underperform, if it is doing well, then the luck stays and you make your own luck.
Sky is making its own luck when it comes to HD. It can be no coincidence that the platform with the most HD subscribers is also the one with the greatest number of channels. Indeed 1.6 million subscribers is considerably more than some platforms have in their standard definition portfolio. The same could even be said for the number of channels.
Two interweaving technologies came of age this year, video-on-demand, and its web-based cousin online TV. The operators of both trumpet the success of their libraries and its usage. Such figures are normally presented in the form of how many programmes are viewed and downloaded in the course of a month. Virgin Media will tell you that over half of its subscribers have used its on demand service, which of course means that just under half haven’t, but think of what such services might already be doing to usage patterns. What we don’t often get is information on how long audiences might hang around for. Remember that journalist’s rule.
The intriguing thing about PC-based catch up TV services is that most people would probably not use them were similar content available to them over the television. Virgin Media is making a start here, as is Telenet in Flanders, the latter has somehow managed to charge for the majority of its on demand content from the very beginning. Virgin is beginning to insert advertisements into its free on demand content, suggesting that some viewers at least are staying tuned long enough to benefit from a mid-roll commercial.