Belfast Telegraph

Why television sets are going the same way as the dinosaur

By Kate Wills

Admitting you didn't have a TV at home used to be social suicide. I remember with a tinge of horror how I mocked the only girl in my class who couldn't join our daily Neighbours debrief because her family didn't have a telly "for religious reasons". But the world has changed a bit since.

No one cool owns a TV any more. The number of UK homes with a television has fallen for the first time, according to Ofcom. At the end of 2012, 26.33m households were still glued to an actual TV set (with a remote and everything), but by the end of last year, 310,000 of them had either converted to whatever anti-TV religion my classmate was or, and this is far more likely, are now bypassing the box to stream shows straight to their phones, tablets, computers and games consoles.

I haven't owned a TV for almost a decade so I'm glad that the rest of the world is finally catching up. Sure, my student digs had a bulky communal box which we gathered round in our hungover droves (watching Doctors, Murder, She Wrote and Jeremy Kyle is almost all I can remember from university), but when I finally moved into my first "adult" flat, I never got round to buying a telly and, because I was barely ever in, I just never missed it. Occasionally I'd feel embarrassed about my lack of a flatscreen. Like when people waxed lyrical about Peep Show, or when I was made TV editor of a national magazine, although I watched the shows that I had to review on "screener" DVDs at my desk, so a telly at home wouldn't have been much help anyway.

Not being a TV-owner may no longer be an anomaly, but people do still seem genuinely suspicious when they find out, as if you must be an intellectual snob, looking down on all the couch potatoes who are addicted to the "glass teat", as Stephen King calls it. I wish I could say that not having a TV at home frees up my time to go jogging or read improving literature, but I get my televisual kicks elsewhere. I watched an entire season of True Detective in one tense but brilliant weekend, glued to my iPad Mini in bed.

Most suspicious of all, though, are the TV Licensing people, who from time to time bombard me with letters threatening to sneakily catch me in the flickering glow of watching Bake Off illegally. But if you don't watch or record programmes live, you don't need a licence, something that the BBC may well need to review as in July, 47% of requests for iPlayer content came from tablets and mobiles (compared with 25% in October 2012).

A quick straw poll reveals we are now firmly divided into two camps. You either own at least one telly, probably three, and "couldn't imagine life without one" and, if you were in The X Factor then you'd be in the "overs" category. Or, you're under 35 and you can't understand who would want or need a TV in this day and age, and the indignity of waiting to watch something live seems as archaic as gathering round the wireless.

Thinking about my dad, who measures out his life in Masterchefs, or my grandmother, who kept a painstakingly colour-coded, highlighted copy of the Radio Times, having the time and the inclination to watch programmes when they're actually on the box is a dying art. So rare, in fact, that we have a whole programme dedicated to watching people watch TV - I'd love to know how many people are streaming Gogglebox on their laptops.

Maybe a TV set will become a retro, ironic "feature", like those old-fashioned phones, record players or a drinks' globe. Until then, I'll invest my licence fee in Netflix and scarily fast broadband.

Belfast Telegraph


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