by Puja Kalaria, Strategy Analyst, Digital UK
posted on February 22nd, 2017
As you reflect on the aftermath of January's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and what all the shiny new tech will mean for consumers in the not too distant future – consider that, despite the fact that it's 2017, 13 per cent of the UK population doesn't use the internet. That's roughly around 8 million people. A further 16 per cent only go online for a very limited range of activities - the so called ‘narrow' users of the internet.
You may think that, as an organisation focused firmly on television, it seems out of place for us to be commenting on internet take-up. But as we are reminded with every news story or magazine article about TV these days, the future of television is the internet, at least in part. We've planted our flag firmly in the ground of this future with the development of Freeview Play – the catch-up and on-demand TV service we launched in 2015.
Last year, we commissioned Kantar Media to conduct some research on our behalf. We wanted to explore whether Freeview Play could offer something to these less tech-savvy consumers, and help bridge what policy makers call ‘the digital divide'.
So who are these non and narrow users of the internet and what can we do to get them online? They tend to be older and poorer than the rest of the population. They are also more likely to have Freeview, and therefore of particular importance to us. Both groups watch a lot of TV, more than the average person. TV plays a significant role in their lives - ranging from their main source of news and information, to a ‘friend in the room'. As part of our research we asked a handful of viewers to live without TV for a day, and for some, the experience was unbearable.
As a prolific user of the internet – and I imagine you are too – it's hard to understand how people can still be unconnected. But once I thought about who in my own circle falls into these non and narrow user categories, it was easy to understand why. The internet is a vast and scary place, particularly for the unfamiliar. This came through clearly in our research. Many cited risk and the fear of things going wrong as key barriers to them either using the internet at all, or to its full potential. However, the barriers that stood out to me were the lack of confidence that comes with a perceived lack of skills, and the lurking notion of ‘it isn't for me, it's for the young' - and that's where Freeview Play might just help.
Freeview Play has the potential to play a unique role in bringing this audience into the connected world. Increasingly available in new TVs and set-top boxes (most manufacturers are now making Freeview Play products), over time it will open up the world of catch-up and on-demand viewing to an audience which could easily be left behind and miss out on TV choices that most of us now take for granted. This is despite the fact that 70 per cent of our respondents really liked the idea of catch-up and on-demand TV. There is even evidence in our research that the appeal of these services could prompt some people to get a broadband connection for the first time.
This research reminded us that TV is a vital part of people's lives. It's no exaggeration to say that some are reliant on it as a connection to the outside world. With Freeview Play, we have a golden opportunity to make what on-demand has to offer available to everyone – just as Freeview did for with digital TV more than a decade ago. For us in the business of free TV, we must remember that a large part of our customer base is not those at the cutting edge of technology, but those who, without support, could fall behind. We must do what we can to actively bring them along on our journey of TV evolution.
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