Why people still watch television live

Despite the rise of on-demand services and recording features like Sky+, surprise figures have revealed that 90% of TV shows are still watched live.

The Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) presented the findings, also stating that TV viewers watched four hours and two minutes of television on an average every day, matching the 2010 data.

90% is a surprising statistic but not indicative of any failings on the part of alternative services, particularly online, which continue to thrive. BBC recorded their best-ever week for iPlayer over the Christmas period with 30 million programmes viewed, capping off a year in which almost 2 billion shows were streamed.

Allowing people to view TV how, where and when they want to is definitely a reality now and more lies ahead with iPad style tablet devices, but these figures suggest it's not quite the game-changer many thought it to be.

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People clearly still want to watch TV shows as they happen. The ability to pause, rewind or watch online is more a convenience than a preference because, let's face it, good television can't be top priority all the time.

So what makes people and families want to gather around at a specific time to watch a show like 'Sherlock', 'Call the Midwife' or 'Dancing on Ice'?

The idea of television as an event has been around for years. After all, nothing gets people watching more than convincing them they'll be alone in not watching. It's worked with 'Strictly Come Dancing' and a host of other reality shows that continue to rake in big audiences both live and online.

Whether you believe a show's sense of occasion is manufactured or genuine, it still plays a part in the minds of many. Another factor, particularly regarding dramas, is the possibility of having the show spoiled.

We've all had a show we love spoiled for us in some way or another. It can be crushing sometimes, especially to the most devoted fans of a particular series.

'Lost' was one of the shows that had us most paranoid about spoilers. Not helped by our unhealthy desire to read up on the mad-cap theories of the show's largely insane cult-like following, the finale of season four was ruined for us, twist and all, thanks to a leaked script and our own annoying curiosity.

Because of this we set our alarm super early one Sunday morning so we could watch the last-ever episode of the show live.

It's a testament both to the show's immense popularity and to just how protective people can be about their viewing experiences.

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TV is entertainment first and foremost, but with long-running shows it can be a lot more. The longer a person watches a show that they enjoy, the more invested they become in its twists, turns and outcomes.

This is evident now in shows like 'The X Factor' that become more "essential" to watch with each passing week.

People like shared experiences. That's why we prefer packed cinemas when we see a big dumb action film. Watching with your family and friends is great but knowing there are potentially millions of other people doing the same as you is nice to know.

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Social networks exemplify this. Everyone knows what it's like to log in and see a flood of talk about a TV show. Sometimes it makes you want to give up on the world entirely and go travelling around the Himalayas, other times it makes you want to be part of the crowd.

Television, for all its faults, is as social as any individual wants it to be. You can watch alone online, with your family or with a big group of friends.

That's the beauty of it. Many people want their viewing experience to be social - that's why we've seen in the figures produced by BARB.


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