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Place-shifting, mobile media and why TV sets aren’t that important anymore

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Written by Patsy Keating / February 9th, 2016, 3:45pm

Hello. It’s me again, talking about the future of television broadcasting, which apparently is a topic I have a whole lot of opinions on. This week I’m thinking about the idea of ‘place-shifting’.

Place-shifting is essentially the idea that people don’t really tend to watch television on an actual television set anymore, opting instead for mobile devices which make it easy to watch what you want, when you want, where you want. I somehow wrote a 3000-word essay on this topic in my final year of university (I don’t know how it happened, it’s a miracle) but I’ll try to keep this one brief...

Mobile media is pretty much inescapable in 2016. You’ll struggle to find someone who doesn’t have access to some form of it – be it a laptop, smart-phone, tablet, or whatever else may be floating around that I’m unaware of. In a world where convenience has become so important, these devices have become, for many people, the main way in which we consume television.

Aside from the convenience of being able to watch TV in any place with an internet connection, this also seems to be the more cost-effective way of doing things. You can fork out a few thousand pounds on a spectacular ultra-HD-4K-mega-pixel-flat-screen-curved TV fixed to one spot on your living room wall if that’s what you enjoy, and I know plenty of people who certainly do. But, I also know an awful lot of people who don’t even own a TV set, opting instead to use streaming services – which are often free, and, if not, then remarkably cheap for the amount of content they offer – on the personal mobile devices that they already have at their disposal.

(I know it's 2016 but I can't pass up opportunities for Friends references. I can't do it. It can't be done. Sorry.)

Huge media companies are really beginning to realise the potential of mobile devices as a way of engaging viewers. Sky is about to launch its Sky Q system (for a cool £42 per month... Netflix isn't looking so bad to me now), which allows subscribers to download programmes onto mobile devices for viewing later, in addition to streaming them anywhere you like in range of your network via an app (it also offers traditional broadcast TV, too). This – in addition to already existing platforms like iPlayer, ITV Hub, TV Anywhere and other similar services – make it quite clear that place-shifting is an important concept in modern television viewing, and broadcasters know it.

I’m sure there’s something to be said here about how anti-social we’re all becoming; watching our tiny individual screens, with our noise-cancelling headphones shutting us off from the rest of civilisation... it’s true, there’s still a social factor to TV viewing, definitely. Crowding four or five people around an iPad balanced on a coffee table propped up by mugs isn’t really an ideal Friday night activity (speaking from experience...), so I don’t see TV sets becoming obsolete anytime soon. But, the rise in popularity of mobile viewing devices in recent years and the fact that traditional media companies are continually looking for ways to improve the convenience and reliability of their streaming, downloading and online catch-up services just goes to show that the way we engage with screen media is constantly and rapidly evolving.

Database last updated: 12 April - 16:50