The accidental experiment that proves media consumption is changing... and BT are terrible
There are several things I just ‘do’ in my house.
Make flatpack furniture
Shout the loudest in angry exchanges
And order telecommunications services
We all tell ourselves stories and I like to believe I am the best in our house at all three. So there.
However, I made a right royal mistake in one of these over the last month.
But it turned out to be a revealing right royal mistake.
Our one-year introductory offer with Virgin Media’s broadband/TV/phone triumvirate was expiring and the price was set to jump by a third. The service has been patchy and, despite the usual and increasingly desperate offers at retention, they would not match last year’s price. So I moved to BT.
It was an immense error of judgment.
I will not spell out the ineptitude of BT. It is dull and all too familiar in a modern consumer world based on sales targets rather than value. Suffice to say they are now bracketed with Ryanair and AOL as companies I will overpay to avoid.
The interesting part is this:
My complaint with BT left our house without BBC, ITV, all the Freeview channels and 80% of the sports specific programming for over a month...
…and no-one noticed.
I have written before about the lessons I have learnt about media consumption from my own household. Boy (10) and girl (8) are now into heavily into gaming and YouTube respectively, meanwhile Wife (40s… is that vague enough, dear?) has become addicted to overdosing on boxsets via streaming services. The first fix was Amazon Prime; a subscription motivated merely to ‘get my stuff quick’. Then she found ‘The Man in the High Castle’. We didn't have a decent weekday conversation in the fortnight that followed.
As my ongoing dispute with BT moved to formal complaint level, I covered my tracks at home with a free month of Netflix. The effect has been, I suspect, a bit like when crack cocaine reached America. At times, our living room has had the languid repose of a 19th-century opium den as strewn bodies stare in silence as if in separate worlds.
Now I am trying to be a good parent here. We have successfully ensured the kids are screen-free until they get home from school. The fight begins upon their return. Without correction, my son can reach teatime without having looked up from Rocket League, likewise my daughter from Smelly Belly TV et al on YouTube.
The meal is the natural break and, after that, we try to ensure a little downbeat family time, and the modern day lullaby is a kids' film on Netflix. Taking them to bed takes another 30-60 minutes and then the adults’ bedtime routine begins, in front of our own shows. I doing Narcos, she’s on Once Upon a Time.
Yes, we have had access to BBC iPlayer and other channels' catch-up apps. They have not been used.
Yes, I subscribed to a week of Sky Sports on NOW TV to see the mighty Essex all-but lift the County Championship against Warwickshire and the not-quite-so mighty Arsenal grind out a point at Chelsea. But I have not bothered since. Stoke v Burnley can whistle and, in the early season, the big games are mostly overhyped snoredraws.
Twitter gives me goal clips in real-time and if it is totally desperate then, of course, I do know where the dodgy streams are located.
This is not a Tom-and-Barbara-Goode deliberate attempt to get back to ‘digital’ nature. I have not read more books in the interim, taken up macramé or started a thriving business in homemade jewellery.
I am still happily, hopelessly addicted to the internet; something about which, with brazen hypocrisy, I scold my children. My son’s only question in the entire BT saga has been to look me straight in the eye and earnestly ask: “Dad, so you mean the internet is working?” Having got his affirmation, he slunk to his console.
Before we went to the US in 2015, my kids were CBBC devotees; now they don't even notice when the channels are inaccessible. They have had a growth spurt in the intervening time but so have the services they consume, especially those on Netflix, Amazon and YouTube.
All three are doing a better job at hooking us than the traditional terrestrial channels and the subscription sports ones, albeit that it may change for the latter as the season gets serious. OK, Dr Foster has passed us by, maybe the educational aspect of Horrible Histories is something to lament and BBC news channel is worth watching when something major breaks.
However, the demise of the four-channel era has eroded our ability to have a shared experience. In the 1980s, my schoolmates and I would all discuss the Bond film that had been shown the previous night.
Because we had all watched it.
Now the four channel-era feels like Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and gaming. And the experience is not always shared within a household, let alone beyond the four walls. If I could, I’d make them the first four channels on my programme guide not BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4, because this month has proved that they are the first port of call in our content viewership.
Of course, the BBC and ITV channels are still relevant but our house clearly does not class them as ‘essential’ in the same way. (At this point, it is important to note that the BBC website has been more essential than ever for us in this period due to a lack of live news).
Where is this going? I don’t know.
Is the BBC going exist in the same form in 20 years? Probably not.
Should I stop asking myself questions? Certainly.
This is not one of these articles that you tie up in conclusion with a nice neat bow. It was an unplanned experiment which yielded an unexpected result that made me think.
The only definite conclusion is that, once again, the internet is changing everything in every way.
Oh and BT are terrible.