/ Technology

Do you still watch live TV?

Long gone are the days of buying TV guides from the local newsagent. With so many new ways to consume entertainment, are you still watching live TV?

These days, if I’m ever going to miss one of my favourite shows, I can hit record and catch up at a later time. Or, if I completely forget that it’s on, I can always catch up on various online platforms, such as Netflix.

In fact, my new favourite discovery is that some internet streaming services will upload a full box-set before they’ve finished airing it on TV. This means I’ve completed a whole season while my friends are only part way through.

Have catch-up apps disappeared from your TV?

Many of us can now even record multiple TV shows at the same time, as well as pausing live TV if we need to – always helpful if you need to pop the kettle on!

A modern day luxury

When I was younger, this was all a luxury you could only dream of. In fact, my sister is still holding against me the one time I accidentally set a TV reminder for Grease, causing it to switch channels halfway through recording Hocus Pocus on to tape. How times have changed.

Last week there was a bit of Twitter outrage when it was announced that Killing Eve, one of the most-watched programmes of 2018, has a second series already airing on BBC America – while the UK has no release date.

Many were asking how a UK programme could be released in the US before here.

As a fan, I was one of them! In fact, the second reaction (after anger!) was to go online to see if it could be streamed.

And that got me thinking… how many people still watch live TV?

Shrinking TV audiences?

I’m sure most of you won’t forget the iconic Eastenders moment when Dirty Den served Angie with divorce papers back in 1986 (on Christmas day no less!).

More than 30 million people tuned in to watch it – making it the biggest scripted TV moment in UK history. Compare that with the Bodyguard last year (shown on the same channel), which only managed 14.3 million.

Other than the increased choice in channels and streaming services, why do you think audiences are shrinking?

For me, I have a pretty busy life. I work full time, go out with friends, try to go home as often as possible, and I go to my weekly pub quiz every Tuesday, so sometimes I find it hard watch TV shows as they come out.

That being said, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to be able to have a full conversation the following day about the episode from the night before. So, I sometimes end up catching up on TV shows on my way into work.

Have your TV-watching habits changed over the years? Are you watching live TV as much as you used to? Let me know how your lifestyle compares.


When I was young, TV was a luxury my parents couldn’t really afford. My grandparents gave us their old one when they bought a new one that spent much of its life covered with a tablecloth when household expenditure wouldn’t stretch to a TV licence. Times have indeed changed.

Nearly everything we watch is either on demand or recorded to watch at our convenience at a time to suit us.

Alex asked:
Other than the increased choice in channels and streaming services, why do you think audiences are shrinking?

There are too many viewing services to watch Films and TV these days with platforms all thinking they can be better than the rest by keeping content to themselves.

Smaller audiences = perceived less viewing interest = series cancelled prematurely = poorer content = series cancelled prematurely.

Are actors happy to be seen by a select few or would they like their work to be seen by as many people as possible?

If Netflix or Amazon want to product their own content, GREAT, but it needs to be available to other platforms after 6 months or a year.

We thoroughly enjoyed The Expanse on Netflix but will not take up an Amazon subscription as well to continue watching it. We used to watch Top Gear but stopped watching when it went to Amazon.

We watch TV to be entertained and escapism from everyday life. Including everyday life in content is not a problem, but I don’t like the way so much is really dominated by perceived ‘issues’. I don’t object to the odd swear word in context but I can’t stand effing this and effing that in every other sentence.

Drama should be enjoyable not uncomfortable.

David Marshall says:
19 April 2019

Top gear on Amazon? Do you mean grand tour. Different program.

You’re right, I should have said the old Top Gear presenters went to Amazon.

Ian says:
20 April 2019

“Drama should be enjoyable not uncomfortable.”

But there is also a place for ‘uncomfortable’ drama which challenges ones preconceptions and perhaps even results in a change of viewpoint.

A good range of drama of all types would be great, but it is one of the most expensive forms of TV programming and so we don’t get enough.

I don’t subscribe to netflix etc but your remark about watching a series on one channel and subsequent series only being available on a different paid-for channel sounds like a ‘fix’ agreed between the paid-for channels – ie a restricted practice and should be challenged.

I don’t think subscription services are likely to collude in that way.

More typically, I think the bidding is for exclusive rights, because that maximises the revenue to the programme makers from a single sale.

There’s some evidence that Netflix is adopting the ‘three season model’ for series. This seems to be as a result of their drive towards putting new content up all the time instead of merely extending current and popular content.

As already mentioned in another convo, I seldom ever watch live TV. Instead, I watch content streamed on YouTube and Netflix.

Sometimes I also read books too. I’ve just finished the 8th book in the Expanse series.

I don’t watch much TV and usually use iPlayer so that I can watch when it is convenient. I stopped watching commercial TV in the 80s because I detest adverts. If I want to watch a programme I record it and skip through the adverts.

My favourite programmes are ones about wildlife. Although I’m a keen radio listener, TV has the edge for wildlife.

Ian says:
20 April 2019

Even if I want to watch something live (very rare), I still record it if it’s on a commercial channel. I then start watching it about 10 minutes after it has started so I can skip the ads and have caught up with real time when the programme end an hour later.

IanS says:
20 April 2019

Havn’t watched live TV for years – everything is recorded from Freeview . Always skip the advertisements. Watch when I want to. The only downside is trying to avoid programme spoilers.

Only watch sport live and an occasionally programmes like the One Show, or the early evening news.

Phil says:
20 April 2019

” why do you think audiences are shrinking? ”

Quite simple; too many channels chasing a finite advertising budget. The result is cheaper programmes which fewer people want to watch which in turn leads to reduced advertising revenue which means even less money to make programmes and so on.

I agree on too many channels. Also I feel the quality of programmes on the main channels (BBC, ITV etc) has plummetted. I am absolutely fed up with all the ‘reality tv’ programmes being shown. In addition it is almost impossible to find a good comedy programme that is not ruined by canned laughter. One channel is showing last of the Summer Wine and it’s obviously filmed outside but there’s canned laughter!

I only really watch sporting events on live TV these days. Watch a small number of movies and series on Netflix but spend the most time watching things on YouTube that the mainstream media (MSM) won’t touch. No point in watching the ‘news’ on MSM any more, I’ve come to realise that it’s all just propaganda for the agenda of the government and the ruling class. They talk about ‘fake news’ but the real fake news is portrayed as truth in the MSM.

There is so much more choice of channels and programmes now, plus alternative content and uploads of old TV programmes on YouTube, all that’s bound to have affected offical viewing figures.

I rarely watch live TV – the exception may be Sunday evenings when I am usually at home. I am seldom at home when favourite programmes are broadcast so watch on the catch-up services – even more so now I have a smart TV and a decent sound base. Plus catch-up can cater to whatever viewing mood you are in – allowing you to choose one genre over another.

It’s fifteen years since I gave up employment so I am surprised that it is still necessary to keep up with things on television so as not to miss out on the office conversation. But then, office work can be like that sometimes – mundane and cyclical and needing something ephemeral to keep one’s spirits up. Since retiring I don’t seem to have much time for TV so I urge all workers to catch it while they can.

From the introduction:
I’m sure most of you won’t forget the iconic Eastenders moment when Dirty Den served Angie with divorce papers back in 1986 (on Christmas day no less!).
More than 30 million people tuned in to watch it – making it the biggest scripted TV moment in UK history.

The population of the UK in 1986 appeared to be 56.68 million. Did more than half the population really watch that episode? Did more than half the population have nothing better to do on Xmas day than watch East Enders? How on earth would the BBC have been able to measure viewers in 1986?

Whereas I suspect BARB measurement of audience stats was possibly as reliable back then as now, I strongly disagree with the premise. the implicit assumption of which is that vast swathes watch something called Eastenders.

Certainly, last November they were running at roughly a 22% share but importantly Eastenders appeals to those living in the SE and not to those living North of Watford. To presuppose that “most” watched that show, even back then, is more representative of W?’s London-centric bias than anything else.

I have never watched a single episode of the show. What’s it about?

It is about a group of people who live around a square in the East End of London who live and work in each other’s pockets, drink all day, a trip to the West End might as well be a trip to the North Pole, they can’t get a job unless it’s working for each other, they are oblivious to life outside their bubble, but most of all they are the most miserable bunch of people you will ever watch.

I did start watching it but soon got fed up with it. Even miserable have to be happy sometimes and I definitely didn’t watch it Xmas day 1986.

I suppose it might have changed since then………..

It would seem that, to make a good story line, there has to be a lot of argument and strife, some violence and, as you say a good dose of miserability. Like Ian I haven’t watched it, but occasionally land on it by accident, always in the middle of a dispute with meaningful looks and dialogue that might contain more invective if it were shown at a later time. I have always regarded East Enders as a sour, sharper version of Coronation Street. Then, of course, there are the Archers but no sign of Walter Gabriel or Dan and Peggy and son Phil. Even their grandchildren are getting on now. The opening tune leads to an automatic dash for the off button.

It’s about doom, misery, violence and periodic murders, usually on Christmas Day! Just like real life really……..


For an important consumer appliances perspective, alfa neglected to mention that few, if any, of them own a normal washing machine or tumble dryer, instead they all seem to use the local laundrette.

Wot still???????

You can tell it’s not true to life. Nobody seems to watch television.

@vynorhill I’m just back from a week back at my mum’s so all caught up on the dramas in Ambridge. I say anything can be made into a scene from The Archers if someone just baas very softly in the background every now and again. 😉

@alfa How on earth would the BBC have been able to measure viewers in 1986?

I used to be on the panel of people who contributed to TV ratings. It was a box that recorded everything that you watched and the information was sent through the phone line over night. As far as I am aware that is how it was done in 1986 as well.

The numbers for Eastenders did include everyone who watched the omnibus edition later in the week so half the country didn’t sit down to watch at the same time.

I was going to say that people watching TV doesn’t make for interesting TV but then remembered there is a whole show based on that premise!

I must have missed it. Do they watch people watching Eastenders and seeing the Eastenders people watching Coronation Street which they surely would be doing in the real world?

I’ve not watched Eastenders and only know something about Coronation Street because I did a little shopping for an elderly neighbour, who would have me wait until the episode had ended. I soon learned to time my visits carefully.

We all like and hate different things, and many like soap operas. One thing my family had in common was a dislike of horse racing and as soon as that came on the nearest one would turn it off or switch channel.

@johnward I must have missed it

It is very popular – basically they put cameras into people’s homes and record them watching TV and their comments. I don’t watch it but have seen some really funny clips. It taps into that nosy side of human nature that makes you glance through a window of a well lit room. 😉

We have two friends on it. Well, one now, since Leo passed away.

The practice is similar in the US with a monitoring box that measures what and how much of the programme is watched. If I recall correctly, one needs to keep viewers tuned in for a good 10 minutes for the programme to count as “watched” by the viewer. This generates a statistical sample that is used to project the number of people watching in total.

I think they also do TV journalling in some cases – asking the viewer to write down what they watched at particular times. It creates some interesting data when the viewer remembers watching Programme X, when their box records differently.

My favourite aspect of the monitoring box is the pet button. When you are watching you input who is watching but so many people leave the TV on for their pets they have a button to state it was not a human watching. I once caught my boyfriend watching the X-Factor on pet mode because he didn’t want to admit to watching it! 😀

Nowadays, yes my viewing habits have certainly changed. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not though. I do miss the days of live tv and chatting with people the next day “did you see so and so last night?” This social aspect has all but gone now. Instead we’re supposed to chat about shows on forums etc. This can be good socially too, but will never replace the face to face converstaions.

My viewing platform mostly is either Netflix, YouTube, my own media library, or purchased digital content.
Live tv I use only really for background purposes or the news is the morning. I’ve also grown to like the radio more than I used to. I’m not a fan of BBC iPlayer, or ITV Hub. They’re resource hungry, and seem to try and force things on me.

What I would like to see is a service which puts my content together from the various platforms I use, and allows me to build my own schedule. Unlikely to ever happen of course.

I could happily live without Live tv, and therefore live without a TV license, except that the wife likes her soaps, so that’s not going to happen!

I couldn’t live without CBBC! 😉

I miss the social media element of live TV. The heydays of live tweeting a TV show was a short lived one between twitter getting popular and streaming services taking over. There are still a lot of people tuning into the likes of Springwatch and big shows like Line of Duty though and I find the tweets about the show are often more entertaining than the actual shows.

My son is 6 and I had to explain the concept of live television to him recently. He pretty much only watches iPlayer and Netflix. He was very confused by adverts when he was watching TV at a friends house.

I’m fed up with the low picture quality of catch-up services, the worst being ITV Hub. Even BBC iPlayer, despite being HD (1920×1080), has lower picture quality than broadcast television because of a low bitrate, which is particularly noticeable with fast-moving images. Compare this to Amazon Prime Video, which delivers UHD (3840×2160) with amazing picture quality.

My internet connection is 1Gbps, so I could simultaneously stream lots of services on different televisions if I wanted to, but the problem is that the providers use low resolutions and low bitrates.

I expect most steaming services are designed to work at the lowest viable bit rates, so they can be enjoyed by households with 10Mbps or more.

Some of my friends in rural Gloucestershire still don’t even get anything like that, so they can only access their favourite best shows via live TV or via optical media.

Yes, the priority is to make a service available to as many people as possible. Services such as iPlayer and YouTube do offer a choice of resolutions, so that you can select a lower resolution if buffering is a problem.

DerekP and wavechange, you have misunderstood my comments. The catch-up service providers’ software automatically adjusts the resolution and bitrate according to the viewer’s internet bandwidth. So this has nothing to do with supporting those on low bandwidth.

My complaint is not about the providers’ minimum supported resolution and bitrate, but about the providers’ maximum supported resolution and bitrate. The maximum is pathetically low, and much lower than broadcast television. Amazon Prime Video proves that UHD with full bitrate is feasible for lots of households, so the catch-up providers should at least support HD at full bitrate.

Sorry NFH, I don’t know the answer. One consequence of providing higher bitrates is that it would place more demand on broadband services that rely on copper cable between a cabinet and their home. Sadly, we don’t all have proper fibre broadband.

NFH, I think you may have misunderstood my comment. My point was that there are many more household with 10 Mbps than with 1 Gbps, so it may not be commercially viable for all streaming services to support the option of UHD.

DerekP, I’m not suggesting that the catch-up services should support UHD, which would require 25Mbps, and in any case that’s a higher resolution than many programmes are filmed in. All I’m suggesting is that they should support HD with a bitrate to support the same picture quality as broadcast television, for which 5Mbps would suffice.

Netflix gives a good guide to required bandwidth at https://help.netflix.com/en/node/306

I only have Freeview and find that paired with a VCR, I always have programs of sufficient interest so that I do not have to pay up to £50 a month for other news/entertainment services.

I don’t watch live TV any more apart from sport. Catch-up TV is marvellous.

Thinking about it I suspect we’re the same.

Same as you @sophie-gilbert – live TV is a rarity. This is despite having Virgin TV (which I had no choice but to accept…. but that’s another matter).

It’s all BBC iPlayer and Netflix for me. Sometimes Now TV if I have a particular show I want to watch, and in the past Amazon.

I saw some really intereting data showing that TV show piracy has dramatically dropped since Netflix started growing – to me it showed that making TV shows easily accessible at a consumer friendly price puts people off priracy. What doesn’t work is threatening people…

I do wonder whether all the many different subscription services, each with exclusive shows, might start to show an increase in piracy as most people cannot in any way afford all of these monthly subscription services…

Interestingly, Apple is believed to have helped kill off music copying by creating iTunes and selling tracks for very little.

Yes, agree on that Ian. It’s changed the music industry and the artists who embraced it fully were pioneers (David Bowie, Radiohead)

I still watch live TV, but far, far less often than say just 5 years ago. I watch the News live, even though I know that’s totally unnecessary with the plethora of News sites on the Internet (including the biased BBC themselves).

I probably watch Netfix more than the BBC, but there seem to be big responses to the changes in viewing habits coming over the next couple of years. With Netflix, Prime, Sky, HBO, AppleTV, BritBox (coming), Disney (coming) and a host of others too. Live TV over the air is becoming an endangered species.

But I have to say that the loss of all those ugly UHF/VHF and satellite dish antennas will be welcome!

It’s interesting that cable [as a media delivery system] was just about getting up to critical mass when satellite technology overtook it [because it didn’t require digging up the streets] and now satellite is being overtaken by internet streaming . . . via cable.

We buy the Radio Times, not for the TV but for the radio. Are we the only ones?

I recall the days when people used to buy the Radio Times for the garden sheds and corset adverts and to send off for men’s gaberdine raincoats.

Since the TV listings have almost squeezed out the Radio listings I prefer to access specific programme information on-line. I am quite content normally to put the wireless on and twiddle the dial until I find something I like.

My wife is old-fashioned and she buys Radio Times and it comes by post every week. We have an aerial on the chimney and we watch BBC and sometimes ITV in our lounge. We have a recorder to watch programmes we might otherwise miss. None of our immediate neighbours has a WOK on the wall and this, being a country village, means there are no TV cables buried in the street. I have a 32″ monitor on the PC in my ‘man cave’ and 40Mb internet so I can watch any BBC and ITV programmes that I really want to see. Although retired I have little spare time to look at TV and usually fall asleep in the evening when trying to watch anyway. We will probably stop watching TV when we will need to pay the license fee again. Even at my age there are plenty of things better to do than watch TV.