Partly prompted by my recent tilt towards writing for TV, and certainly catalysed by interweb posts by Lucy and John August, I’ve been mulling over what TV might be like in the not-too-distant future.

I’m often wary of this kind of prediction, as it’s often off the mark (cf all the jokes in the Year 2000 asking where our flying cars are, etc), and too many such articles both on TV and in print seem to end with the phrase ‘scientists hope the {whatever] could be on sale within five to ten years’, which usually translates the whole item into ‘wouldn’t it be kewl if..?’ like the worst kind of writing on Ain’t-It-Cool-News.

But anyway, it seems to me that the development of Tivo and Sky+ and other hard drives, combined with the ‘shows on demand’ facilities offered by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 (and, for all I know, others) could well herald the end of TV scheduling as we know it. Which may not necessarily be a bad thing for the audience, but will certainly crate challenges for broadcasters and advertisers.

Given that we don’t seem too far from a point in time where you as good as ignore the broadcast times of programmes and decide to watch them by downloading them (I’m kind of presupposing an internet-TV link here, but it doesn’t seem too unlikely) at your leisure, and effectively creating your own schedule, doesn’t this potentially remove the need for programmes to fit into timeslots? If, for example, an episode of Casualty is scripted to run to 58 mins instead of the standard 50, is there actually any need for it to be trimmed down? The next programme’s not going to run late as a result, as there is no ‘next programme’. So I’d see it as having considerable effects on the actual making of programmes – whether it’ll lead to excessively slow-paced programmes with sloppy editing and needless padding, or allow for more creative use of pacing and the like is, of course, a matter of conjecture.

For commercial channels and advertisers too, there’s the problem that ‘ratings’ as such almost cease to exist, which will play happy havoc with the idea of paying to have a prime-time slot, as again, there’s no such thing as prime-time any more. There may be a vast number of people downloading or selecting Coronation Street, though the chances of them doing so at exactly 7.30pm and again at 8.30pm on Monday night seem rather reduced. Actually, you can watch the last 30 days’ of Corrie online for free at, and I’d be interested to see what – if anything – they do about the ad breaks. Anyone know if they retain them (as with the televised omnibus) or drop them altogether (as if one was watching the DVD boxed set)? Removal of adverts would also have an impact on the placing of scene breaks and cliffhangers in commercial TV drama, too.

Now, I won’t flatter myself that the above constitute searingly original thoughts, but things do seem to be heading towards the all-in-one side of things with the rise of cable-based TV/Internet providers with their ‘on demand’ film stashes etc, and I can’t help thinking that being able to choose your own channel – YourTube, as it were – will have a startling effect on the form and content alike of TV programming in the not too distant future> It seems likely to change the nature of TV, from the making of shows through to the way they’re broadcast and watched, as well as the monitoring of ratings and advertising rates. All fairly fundamental stuff, and I keep wondering just how it’ll all shake out.

Which is, of course, to say: John expects that TV will be completely ‘on demand’ within five or ten years.