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

Share
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

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower