No one normal worries about the definition of TV because they have lives to lead, energy bills to weep over, and hot takes on Will Smith to have. But there is one group who should care about what it means, argues Matt Hill.
Apple TV won best picture at the Oscars. You can watch YouTube on a TV set. You can watch Channel 4 on YouTube. Netflix is available on Sky.
As video proliferates and cross-pollinates, the question of what now constitutes TV is a fair one. As is the question of whether it is now a meaningful question to ask.
Some in the media industry have attempted to redefine what the term means – in continental Europe they often talk of TV as meaning Total Video.
Some have walked away from the word TV altogether and now simply talk in terms of video (maybe premium video) or AV.
I can understand these reactions. The word TV can feel like something that belongs in the past, even though it continues to be so important in the present.
And it’s no great shakes to viewers. No one normal worries about the definition of TV because they have lives to lead, energy bills to weep over, and hot takes on Will Smith to have. They just watch what they want to watch however they can best watch it.
TV is magical, but stripping it down to its essentials, it is high-quality, professionally-produced, generally long-form, AV content – and it can be watched live or on-demand.
People know TV when they see it and know it doesn’t have a definite article. The TV is the screen people prefer to watch it on.
But there is more to it than that. And there is a group that probably should still care about what’s defined as TV: advertisers. In advertising, their perspective matters most.
So a meaningful question to ask is "what defines TV for advertisers?" My answer would start with the following:
It’s regulated. All TV content has to comply with the broadcasting act and this means that all content is viewed by a (human) compliance team prior to finding its way to your screens. This ensures it is brand safe and brand appropriate.
It’s professionally-produced. All TV content is commissioned or acquired. Basically, money has been invested to make it, so TV content will meet a minimum editorial standard. The benefit for advertisers is that this ensures a high-quality environment and the costly signals of being seen there that this entails.
TV provides a consistent advertising environment. This means properly curated ad breaks, where a professional editor has cut the content in a way that isn’t jarring for the viewer, and in most cases the content has been designed with ad breaks in mind. So there is a smooth and seamless movement between the shows and the advertising.
TV ads aren’t charged for if they’re not played out in full, and they have all been pre-cleared to ensure they meet the BCAP code.
So they can’t make false promises; all claims are substantiated and suitable for the time they are on and the audience they are being shown to.
Advertisers can be sure their brands won’t appear alongside ads for questionable products.
There’s probably more. But my point is that, although the definition of TV might not bother viewers, as video proliferates, advertisers should definitely still care about what’s defined as TV. It still matters.
Matt Hill is director of research and planning at Thinkbox, the marketing body for commercial TV in the UK.