Natalie Haynes: Water-cooler television still counts

Most of us don't want to learn about Pat Butcher's death the day after it happened

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A large chunk of the internet is not that important to most people, it seems. This week saw headlines that CD sales are still falling fast, while digital album sales increase – all of which you might expect. But the actual figures are more surprising: 26.6 million albums were sold digitally in the UK in 2011. Meanwhile, 86.2 million actual shiny silver discs were shifted in the same year.

In other words, we still buy more than three times as many CDs as downloads. And since Michael Bublé's Christmas record outsold every album last year apart from Adele's 21, then we are buying them because we like listening to songs with our friends or families when we gather together.

The same is true with television. The BBC doesn't demand a licence fee from those who use its iPlayer service. That might be because statistically, those users most probably have a TV licence already. But it's more likely to be because the BBC estimates that only 0.2 per cent of us watch programmes in that way alone. The remaining 99.8 per cent prefer to turn on our televisions, and watch programmes as they go out, even if we use iPlayer too.

It's not just reality shows or sport that we don't want to watch once the live thrill has passed: it's everything. Almost all of us would rather watch Sherlock or Great Expectations when everyone else is too. We want to be part of a community, whether we're online, tweeting about everything we watch, or ignoring the net entirely. And films are no different. The most-watched film in UK cinemas last year was the final Harry Potter, followed by The King's Speech and The Inbetweeners Movie. But in the world of illegal downloading, Fast Five trounced everything else.

Fast Five, for those of you who aren't 14-year-old boys (and don't have the soul of a 14-year-old boy, like I do, though I plan to give it back at some point), is the fifth movie in The Fast and The Furious franchise, which stars a man named after petrol driving a car quickly. The unavoidable conclusion is that the piratic minority are interested in quite different films from the majority – Fast Five didn't even make the top 10 films seen legally in the UK last year.

So perhaps we should dial down our enthusiasm for proclaiming the end of the CD, of water-cooler TV moments and of box office smashes that everyone piles in to see. The truth of it is that the large majority of us don't yet want our CDs replaced by MP3s, don't want to learn of Pat Butcher's death the day after it occurred, and would prefer dinner and a movie on the big screen, not a laptop.

www.nataliehaynes.com

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