Before the invention of the television, the focal point of any room was the fireplace. In fact, the word "focus" derives from the Latin word for "hearth." However, the invention of the television, coupled with the arrival of central heating, means that, from the mid-20th century onwards, most of us have pointed our sofas at the TV.
If you were a child of the '60s, '70s, '80s, or '90s, the chances are that this arrangement only partially worked for you. The adults would occupy those seats that faced the television head-on, and you would fight your siblings for the least-worst other vantage points. Someone inevitably ended up watching the curved CRT screen at the sort of angle that made everyone look like they were a reflection in a fairground mirror. Or worse -- you had to watch a show you weren't interested in because the remote was firmly in the hands of your parents.
With the arrival of proper flat-screen TVs, the youngest family members around the world heaved a sigh of relief and enjoyed the novel experience of watching shows without craning their heads at a curious angle. And then came streaming.
A different way of watching TV
With the introduction of streaming came a new way of watching TV, where the TV itself isn't necessarily the vital component. Today, we can watch TV on our phones, on our tablets, on smart mirrors in the bathroom, on smart fridges in the kitchen, or on long journeys in the car.
Let's take the U.K. as an example for how things are changing. In the U.K. today, according to Ofcom's latest communications report (August 2020), 94% of adults have a smartphone, 74% have a computer, and 54% have a tablet. In fact, more adults in the U.K. have a mobile phone than have a TV.
According to the U.K.'s lockdown viewing analysis by Ofcom, out of the 6 hours and 25 minutes of "TV" watched daily across all adult groups, 2 hours and 48 minutes were from online services and 2 hours and 58 minutes were from linear services. This figure changes dramatically with the 16- to 34-year-old demographic. They watched 4 hours and 35 minutes from online TV services and only 1 hour and 15 minutes of linear TV. And according to "Auntie" -- the BBC itself -- 16- to 24-year-olds spend more time on Netflix than they do watching any of BBC's televisual output (including iPlayer). This pattern was replicated in many other countries around the world.
So should we rearrange the living room?
There's really no need to call in the movers, though, as the big-screen TV in the living room still plays a significant role in family life. We're not, as some might have predicted, each staring at the phone in our hand, rather than sharing the experience of watching the TV in the corner of the room.
In their 2020 report on CTV, SpotX identified that whilst 31% of adults, in our U.K. example, are watching video on devices like tablets and smartphones, they're not the most popular choices for long-form programming whether for catch-up or on-demand viewing. In the U.K., 70% of adults prefer to watch broadcast VOD on their TV set (7 out of 10 in the living room). Moreover, SpotX estimated that 40% of all European internet-enabled and TV households now own a smart TV, and of these, 45% watch streamed services on a regular basis. Contrary to popular belief, Generation X represents the largest generational segment, representing 43% of all connected TV viewers (more than Generation Z and millennials, which represent a combined 32%).
Why the big TV is still king
With personalised experiences and the opportunity to watch whatever we want, whenever we want it, why are we still fighting over the remote control?
Part of the answer is that the viewing experience is just better on bigger TVs. We naturally gravitate to them. According to Netflix, 75% of its customers sign up for the service on a smartphone, tablet, or computer, often enjoying their first show there. But this rapidly tails off over the first month and then again over the remainder of the first six months. By halfway through the year, 70% of viewers have moved to the biggest screen in their house.
Some types of shows are also harder to watch on small screens. Spotting whether someone is offside, or a serve is in or out, when the ball is represented by a dot of only a few pixels is hard work. Similarly, film noir, fantastic as screen quality is on smartphones today, can have people squinting at their devices. What's a great experience on the move isn't always people's preferred experience in the home.
There's also a cultural element. The living room television is embedded in the everyday lives of many Europeans. This isn't always the case globally. Some countries are particularly mobile-first in their approach and, here, we see viewers on smaller screens in huge numbers. For example, in India, Hotstar delivered IPL cricketing action to 18.6 million viewers, most of whom watched on a mobile device. We Europeans, though, are much more attached to the shared experience of watching on the TV.
Push me, pull you
Of course, one of the reasons why people are watching streamed content on the big TV is because they can. Huge advances in streaming technology mean that many of the negative elements that used to be associated with delivering video on the internet have been eliminated.
For example, picture quality from linear TV used to be better than online. This is no longer the case. Unencumbered by legacy technology, online services have pushed the boundaries to provide high-fidelity video coupled with a buffer-free experience, often to audience numbers in excess of those seen on linear TV. Think back to the World Cup in Russia. The only way to get a 4K experience was online.
It's also become a cliché to talk about the spoiled experience of streaming a sporting event with many seconds of latency, when you hear the cheers of your neighbors seconds before you see your team score. With low-latency streaming, we are now easily able to deliver HD video at TV audience scale with 2- to 3-second latency. Sub-second latency at scale is also on its way.
The longevity of the big screen also bodes well for generating real long-term value from OTT. Advertisers like us to be in a relaxed state and put a premium on large-screen TVs, especially when the ad experience is delivered correctly and is relevant to the viewer. TV viewing has proved time and time again to generate better sales impact -- according to ThinkTV, 2.4x more impact than Facebook and a whopping 2.7x more impact than YouTube.
Sit back and relax
So, we won't be breaking our backs to reorganise the furniture any time soon. OTT is certainly changing the broadcasting landscape -- there's more choice, more personalisation, and many new services -- but it's not changing the living room landscape. Get yourself a drink, put your feet up, turn on the big TV, watch the best programming we've ever had, and enjoy the ride.