Scheduling content or scheduling choice?

Whilst listening to the BBC's Media show [episode 26/08/2009) on my bicycle this morning (actually through my iPod and not the bike itself) I found myself challenging the distinctions made by a guest on the show. Patrick Barwise, Professor of Management and Marketing at the London was responding to the question of whether he thought that once video on demand (VOD) could be delivered through a television, whilst delivering the same picture and sound quality, it becomes a revolutionary development. He felt no, on the basis that all the evidence points toward people predominantly watching live television.

By use of the term ‘live’, he’s making the distinction between VOD and scheduled broadcast television output, not ‘live event’ television in the old sense, i.e. it’s being shot right now. However clear his distinction was, it still conceals a fundamental point. The majority of television is scheduled, and at the moment, that is the prerogative of the broadcaster. When the BBC only operated on one channel, it couldn’t provide choice, but once BBC2 came along, the continuity announcer could suggest an option to the viewer. That meant a shift from forward scheduling (telling me what’s happening later on) to include sideways scheduling (what’s happening on other channels). An easy shift one might think, but something that channel managers have continued to redefine. What’s to say that this mechanism for delivering choice won’t be extended to the choice of seemingly infinite channels of content, where the continuity announcer (or even visual interface/EPG) simply offers up a choice selection of the best that’s (constantly) available, thereby highlighting the wealth of other (always available) content provided by the broadcaster. As a viewer I won’t question when the announcer suggested the choice, rather I will simply be conscious of the fact that the choice is ‘live’.

So I agree that people will continue to hit the TV on button and expect to be able to consume content there and then, but to suggest that this can’t offer up VOD misses the point. The majority of broadcast content is already scheduled and to enable the user to self-schedule is more a challenge of the way you present that choice, not a distinction between live and VOD. I don’t question whether YouTube is live, I question how fresh it is. Where the innovation needs to happen is in the way broadcasters couch user choice, whilst maintaining the values of the Broadcaster, i.e. to maintain the sense of continual live editorial presence but at the same time offering choice to the viewer. The iPlayer is clearly on the way to making that evolutionary step.

Paul Tyler