On Demand: the content killer

As I am no longer in the youngest age bracket in the workplace, it is now my duty to sneer and scoff at those younger than me for not knowing what defined my childhood.

As last week drew to a close, I circulated a Buzzfeed article to my colleagues that detailed various things that you may recall with fervour if you were born between 1981 and 1993.

Tinged with nostalgic magnificence, the listing copy reminded us of 3 ½ inch floppy disks, the need to rewind your rented video cassette before returning it to Blockbusters, downloading songs from Limewire which always turned out to be a radio recording or a deadly virus, dial-up modems, Teletext, and having to wait until after 8pm to telephone a chum because it was cheaper than at 7.59pm.

Those were the days, I tell ya.

However one thing that struck me was the printed TV Guide. In the 1990s, not many people had Sky and were forced – forced! – to soldier on with the meagre titbits offered on the terrestrial channels. It was a blizzard of Challenge Anneka, Lenny Henry, and Noel’s House Party.

We had a choice, though: BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV and its regional equivalents, Channel 4 and… I’m not sure I can include Channel 5 (such hype, such disappointment). This was it, if you wanted to watch TV you had to be on the sofa at the corresponding time or you would simply miss your show. It wouldn’t come around again. Ever.

There were risks, of course. You may have let your guard down and accidentally overrun into TheAntiques Road Show or Songs of Praise after Knightrider had finished. Chaos. More commonly, though, you’d disappear down a TV wormhole and happen across something that could very well end up teaching you something.

For instance, I was born in 1984 and define myself as a child of the nineties, but weirdly I know an awful lot about pop culture and life in the sixties and seventies. I’d flick through the endless list of four channels (I’m still not including Channel 5) and find myself watching one of those schedule-fillers like I Love the 70s or something. I therefore know things.

I once stumbled across an interesting documentary about railways, and now I know about them, too. It was great. I had no previous interest in such things, but casual channel surfing turned out to be destiny. I came across Formula 1 after a spot of channel surfing, too.

So what of today? Our resident youth here at Mash Media is a smart kid. He can use Spotify, knows a ‘banger’ when he hears one, and is able to successfully ride a bus from point A to point B without getting lost. His memories of childhood, though, are far detached from mine (an age gap of 13 years divides us).

As such, he only knows the On Demand world. Digital TV that offers you everything you could ever want, when you want. If he misses an episode of Coronation Street, then no matter, he can watch it later on the ITV Hub, or ITV+1, +2, +3 or in some other dark corner of cyberspace. If he wants to watchAvengers: Thor does the laundry, he’s on to Netflix. There is no channel surfing, no chance encounters with a documentary about geography, no stumbling across David Attenborough, nothing that may expand his mind.

If we only choose to watch, read, or listen to things we already like, then we’re going to get boxed in. Where’s the endeavour? Where’s the chance discovery?

This, I suspect, will have a knock-on effect in the conference and meetings industry. In fact, there is evidence to suggest it is already having an impact.

In our upcoming Association Events Manager magazine (which comes out with the December issue of UK sister title Conference NewsI hope you’re subscribed), Mosaic Events’ director Sarah Byrne writes about how associations are struggling to attract millennial membership. I won’t give too much away because you have to read it, but it resonates with what I’m banging on about here.

Younger professionals, who don’t know their Tiswas from their Live & Kicking, are simply not investing in membership, and associations are scratching their heads and trying to work out why. I doubt it’s because young people aren’t interested, but rather the concept of structured content is totally alien to them. They don’t do chance encounters with content, they are not used to being dictated to by a predetermined schedule. They want something, they want it On Demand. Wither agenda? I’d say so.

There’s no point waving your walking stick around and shouting at the TV, yearning for a return to the good old days. Things have changed. We want it all, we want it now.

What does this mean for your content? I have no idea.

Martin Fullard


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