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How Long Can Live TV Persist in Britain? Everyone TV Chief Speech Analysis

Back in February 2024, the chief of Everyone TV (Mostly just called "Freeview" to you and me) spoke out about the changing age of entertainment. From streaming to the authenticity of truly British broadcasting, a lot got said.

But seeing the development of Freely, the rise of streaming, and looking at responses to the latest releases can provide a grander, more detailed context for the narrative that Jonathan Thompson put forward.

Does Live TV broadcasting have a place on the global TV stage for both British broadcasters and the British audience?

TV Should Unite Us and Provide Connection

The first major piece of context which supplements Jonathan's speech excellently is how communication over TV has changed due to online streaming and social media.

This change manifests in something as simple as the frequency of series' episodes releasing.

Back in the day, as they say, series' episodes were generally a week apart. This meant 1 hour (or often less) of a show before you were back to waiting a whole week for the next. Anyone you talked to in this time was likely someone you worked with, lived with or could call on the phone.

When on-demand and streamed content boomed the appeal was instant access, instant gratification and bingeable shows. People could catch up on hours and hours of content all in one go, and talk to strangers in different countries about it.

Traditional TV and series structures obviously continue, but a brand new sub-set of the audience had been created by this "binge" culture shift.

Suddenly, we have thousands of audience members who have seen episodes 1 - 4, thousands who have seen only episode 1, and a few maniacs who have seen the whole season, all within 24 hours of a show dropping!

This adds a further degree of separation between TV broadcasts and streamed content and, in truth, a further degree of separation between each other as viewers...

"Social media was hailed as the tech innovation that would connect us in the digital age – but at its worst, risks connecting us to the bits of each other we least like and trust. It is TV that connects us to what we already have in common."

Our first quote from the Everyone TV chief shows this disparity, the juxtaposition of more access to conversation not actually resulting in more connection.

One thing he doesn't go in to is why, which is what the context I provided here begins to uncover.

In a social media age we are able to watch a season of TV, voice a reactive opinion of it, and "debate" it immediately with thousands of other people. The act of connecting through a simultaneous TV experience is mired by "hot takes" and a surplus of information which, while maybe relevant to a specific discussion, isn't relevant to a general conversation about a show.

You could be voicing an opinion on a show to someone the other side of the world, who only watched it on their phone on a commute, and who has knowledge from the rest of the season you haven't got to yet.

"TV’s real [Unique Selling Point] – more than any other media – is to reach a mass audience and to create a sense of shared experience for that audience."

It is the joined experience of a broadcast, watched as intended, which sparks in us the joy, fear, sadness and drives of the art form. It is not the recording of our reaction, or the sharing of our hot take, that makes TV valuable. It is the TV itself.

Streamed content creates barriers between viewers such as number of episodes watched or even method they watched, which all detracts from the "shared experience" Jonathan mentions.

This gives Live scheduled TV with weekly episodes an "edge" that binge-culture services can't access, and implies that Live TV will survive in Britain even after Freely takes off.

There is a Desire to "Go Back" to Weekly Shows

There's even reason to believe that this method of content delivery is actually preferable even to streaming services. There is evidence that audiences, even of on-demand services, actually want the restriction of weekly episodes.

Even the largest streaming services such as Disney Plus will roll out their high profile shows weekly, such as with the Marvel series "Loki". We also saw weekly episodes on Game of Thrones, a phenomenon that enabled a huge online following to remain more coherent. They don't make these changes for nothing, and more and more streaming services offer weekly releases of episodes this way.

"My TV watchlist is becoming a little like my book collection – impressive in breadth – but the majority is largely unread. But over the last month, it feels like something changed."

One key reason is to keep people subscribed with regular new content, rather than a big drop which everyone subs and the unsubs for. However, a much more relevant reason for Jonathan's speech is that user retention is far higher when unable to binge shows.

By giving yourself time to process and engage with each episode before the next, as well as fuel a unified discourse with an audience who are all equally in the dark, excited and "valid", you improve retention of what happens in each episode.

This allows for deeper storytelling, greater connections to characters and a more universal "shared experience". With the streamed and Live TV experiences being so vastly different, there may always be a place for Live TV to persist in the UK.

Freeview is Going Always-Online

In the speech, Jonathan isn't shy to hint at the way Netflix conglomerates content and absorbs culture. One thing that we were all waiting for was confirmation on the accessibility to Freely, Everyone TV's streaming version of Freeview.

While not many details on Freely were spoken about, Jonathan was adamant that going online wouldn't make Freeview and British broadcasting any less unique.

"Protectionism brings with it the risk of marginalisation. But give up all interventions and we become a 51st state in Netflix’s global strategy."

It is clear Jonathan sees the UK bending to Netflix's "formula" an absolute failure on our part, which is heartening to see. It would be easy enough for British networks to "sell out", but the spark of independence very much there.

This does imply a brighter future for Freely than previously thought.

If the TV schedule remains varied, with regular releases rather than binge culture, and if enough people watch to restart the age of TV providing true connection, then Freely could be the best way for Freeview to survive.

I still hold that if we make all our content, entertainment, work, social lives, learning and the rest of it always-online then we are just putting all our eggs in one basket and we'll eventually drop it.

By keeping live broadcasting on terrestrial and satellite Freeview / Freesat we provide a contingency plan for the internet being unavailable, but that angle isn't one Jonathan really explores.

Change for Change's Sake

On the more negative side, Jonathan says:

"Change is so fundamental now – so endemic to the industry that we work in – that we need to adopt a mindset of permanent reinvention. We need to embrace the change required for the industry we want in the future, rather than merely preserving the system we have."

The idea that change for the sake of change is something broadcasting needs to adhere to is worrying. In a digital age of fast-evolving technology, many people have forgotten the old adage "If it ain't broke don't fix it".

We got voice controlled lights and TV's just because we could sell the tech, not because light switches stopped working (although for those with limited mobility or motor skills obviously voice controls are fantastic thing to implement).

Seeing Everyone TV so determined to constantly change to the point of "permanent reinvention" is a little hard to hear alongside all the talk of staying authentic and British.

The main takeaway is that Freeview and Freely are looking to provide the same content, but in a new way. This preserves what makes TV great while also reinventing Freeview as a streaming service.

Just because something is on the internet and therefore technically available in 100+ countries doesn't mean that all content should be made for those 100+ countries. You can't please everyone, even less so when on the internet, so Everyone TV isn't trying to:

"This was a uniquely British story. Told in a uniquely British way. Commissioned with courage and conviction. Made with care and humanity. Neither the most expensive nor the glossiest drama ever made, nor one that will likely appeal to a global audience."

Live TV Competing on the Global Stage

Finally, when regarding the existence and persistence of Live TV, Jonathan addressed our state in the global market.

"I’ve had the opportunity to meet with a number of European broadcasters over the last few weeks – as we’ve shared some of our plans for the launch of Freely. Despite wider political developments over the last few years, when it comes to TV, they look to the UK as the benchmark, perhaps even the gold standard."

It is clear that Everyone TV aims to be a contender and leader, not a bystander or just a  "member" of the global TV market.

The hyperbole of the "gold standard" falls a little short, as many countries are known for their TV exploits and specialities in the same way the UK is. From Scandinavian crime dramas to British docudramas, Japanese slice-of-life's and American "Saturday Morning Cartoons", we have all played a part in shaping unique aspects of the global TV market and each country will value their contribution as such.

The Age of Streaming and The Existence of Live TV

One thing that all this added context does it highlight that "Freely" is by no means looking to convert UK Television into another Netflix, and certainly not looking for a subscription fee which is fantastic news.

Between binge culture dying down, social media providing intrusion on our enjoyment and experience of TV, and British-produced media providing unique and powerful shows, it looks like the idea and the essence of Live TV will persist.

What is looking increasingly sure, however, is that we will not be accessing that content with an aerial. With the idea of permanent reinvention and constant change very much at the forefront of Everyone TV's delivery of content, it is looking likely that the end of Freeview in 2034 will mark an "online switchover" just like the digital one from yesteryear.

Read the full speech on the Freeview site here

Image Credit PhotoLaura

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