Thomas Sutcliffe: It's on your iPod, but it's not telly

Related Topics

I took Keeley Hawes to bed the other day and, without wishing to be ungallant, the experience didn't entirely live up to my expectations. Her husband, Matthew Macfadyen, has no need to worry about this confession, incidentally, because Ms Hawes wasn't even with me in spirit. She was present in pixels only – in her role as DI Alex Drake in Ashes to Ashes. Having missed episode one of the new series, I thought I ought to catch up with it, but I was feeling a little under the weather at the time, so I took my laptop to bed and used the wireless connection to get through to the BBC's iPlayer website, which lets you catch up with the last seven days of broadcasts.

As I say, I wasn't quite sure about Ashes to Ashes – which struggled a little to justify another chronological clash of cultures – but I felt considerably warmer towards iPlayer by the time I'd finished. In fact, I liked it so much that I invited John Torode and Gregg Wallace, the presenters of Masterchef Goes Large, to take Keeley's place, so that I could catch up with one of their early heats.

I'd been a little sceptical – in theory – about iPlayer, mostly on grounds of the visual quality of the image, which is smaller than the average postcard. What I discovered – in practice – is that a postcard-sized image two feet away from your nose is, to all intents and purposes, much the same as a 42in screen on your bedroom wall. True, it's hardly HD and you can give up on the subtler nuances of cinematography, but when was that relevant to Masterchef – or 90 per cent of the BBC's output? The fact is that the laws of perspective have a wonderful way of evening out the competition between little screens and big ones – a trick that will presumably also come in handy now that the BBC has made some of its programmes available for purchase through the iTunes store, so that those with the cash and connections can carry programmes with them on iPods and iPhones.

There are some obvious practical drawbacks to the iTunes development. One is that the current offerings – Torchwood, Life on Mars, Little Britain, Catherine Tate, and so on – are not terribly exciting. As anyone with Freeview will already know, there seem to be digital channels that are dedicated solely to round-the-clock broadcasts of Little Britain and other popular strands. If you were in the market for these programmes it would be something of an achievement not to have seen them all already. And the pricing on the iTunes offer appears designed to discourage new customers, with the download of a complete series costing far more than the DVD equivalent available in any high street store. I would have thought there might be a market for the kind of one-off documentary or drama that is unlikely to be given a DVD release – £1.89 isn't a huge amount to pay to placate the sense of frustration that less assiduous television watchers get when one of the rare good ones escapes them. But for whatever reason, that kind of programme doesn't yet show up on the virtual shelves.

But here may be a more significant problem with all of these new forms of dissemination – one that has nothing to do with the size of the screen or the quality of the image, but which does concern the amount of space there is in front of the screen... and how many people can share it.

Nobody, I take it, is going to huddle around an iPod or a laptop for a spot of family viewing. With some broadcasts, this isn't going to matter a great deal. Some programmes are an inherently solitary experience, because you have to concentrate on their content. But a lot of television would be pretty near unendurable if you didn't have people sitting alongside you to help you through. And the odd thing is that these aren't necessarily the worst programmes, just those that recognise that television has always been partly a continuation of the music-hall tradition – that most democratically raucous form of entertainment. We have learnt to behave in the theatre and the art gallery, but we know that we are still at liberty to mock and jeer and gasp in front of the television – and it's one of the things we like most about it.

Even the Prime Minister – not a man you'd associate with vulgar pleasures – knows the satisfaction of consuming The X Factor in the company of his family. Until you can download that bit of the experience, there's an argument for saying you haven't downloaded the essence of television at all.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little