Raymond Snoddy on media: Plenty of life in the old box yet

The minute you see a consultancy report by a group called Attentional the instinct to reach for the recycling bin is very strong.

Who else but recently unemployed hedge-fund managers in search of a new scam would come up with such a name? Luckily, the provenance of those behind the silly name lingers in the note 'formerly David Graham & Associates'.

We should indeed listen to this bunch, particularly when they use 'advanced statistical modelling techniques' with BARB viewing data to come up with 'rather unexpected' forecasts of UK viewing patterns.

Whatever Attentional has become, it surely must benefit from the advice of David Graham, who has spent a lifetime in British television. He founded Diverse Productions, which became one of the UK's biggest independents, although Graham has usually come with a right-of-centre and resolutely free-market twist. It takes all sorts.

What Attentional has discovered, probably unintentionally, is that pronouncements of the death of old-fashioned TV are wide of the mark. Or as it puts it, talk of the inexorable decline of linear telly is premature.

These are not exactly ground-breaking ideas, even though they are somewhat unfashionable. The importance lies in where they are emanating from - people who did not expect to come to such conclusions.

Industry lobby groups can bang on about such truths for ever and people tend to nod wisely and say: 'Yes, but they would say that wouldn't they?' Later this month Thinkbox even plans to call in the neuroscientists to prove once again that TV advertising really does work.

But before the arrival of the men in white coats, what do the mere statisticians of Attentional have for us?

Their top line prediction is that total TV viewing in the UK will rise by 4.6% over the next five years. This may seem like a modest rise, but levels are already high and a rise of any kind is counter-intuitive given the myriad alternative attractions on offer.

Perhaps more dramatic, Attentional believes that viewing by 18- to 34-year-olds will rise by 5% by 2012 after a couple of years of decline - a welcome reminder that it is not wise to extrapolate short-term trends into a long-term future.

The factors at play in this relatively optimistic outlook include a boost to overall viewing from older people finally getting digital and the addition of young immigrants to the viewer pool. Watch-anytime technology will also increase the main broadcasters' viewing figures, whether via TVs or computers.

There are now 3.1m homes with Sky PVRs, and the numbers continue to grow significantly.

In addition, the BBC's iPlayer, which offers a selection of programmes aired over the previous seven days, is taking off rapidly. In the two weeks after Christmas, the BBC reported 1m visitors to its iPlayer site and downloads of about 250,000 programmes a day. The early numbers suggest that Kangaroo, the Beeb's commercial Worldwide version could be huge financially.

None of this appears to signal a hand-wringing scenario. Competition will be intense between broadcasters, but the big picture is clear. This is neither a zero-sum game nor the dreary management of inevitable decline. Quality programmes, and the consistent investment necessary for them to happen, really do matter. Equally important, innovative marketing is vital for reaching audiences - particularly the young.

So despite all appearances to the contrary, it's worth paying attention to David Graham & Associates - or whatever it calls itself these days.

30 SECONDS ON ... BBC IPLAYER

- In a posting on the BBC Internet Blog last Thursday, director-general Mark Thompson defended choosing to make iPlayer available primarily to Windows PC users at launch and promised that viewers using Apple computers would be able to download programmes as well as stream them before the end of this year.

- Thompson went on to quote statistics for iPlayer's streaming facility showing that Windows users account for 90% of streaming, Mac users 9% and Unix users 0.8%. The BBC therefore estimates that its PC-only download service reaches 90% of its target audience.

- Analysts believe iPlayer's post-Christmas figures of 1m users downloading 3.5m shows in two weeks - twice the rate predicted by the BBC - is sustainable growth and likely to continue for some time.

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