We are watching television together less and less often. In the past, watching TV was a social activity that brought people together. The whole family watched the same program on the same TV set, and when people went to work the next day they could be fairly sure that most other people had also seen the same program. This is no longer the case. What once brought us together is now a source of fragmentation. Most families have several TVs, and they sit in different rooms and view different programs - if they watch TV at all. What's more, the channel offerings have become so large and varied that few programs qualify as shared topics in the lunchroom at work.
"We are becoming more and more individualistic also in our choice of TV programs," says Jakob Bjur in a new dissertation from University of Gothenburg in Sweden. In his dissertation work at the Department of Journalism, Media, and Communication, Jakob Bjur studied so-called social viewing.
"In 1999 social viewing, watching together, accounted for 45 percent, and in 2008 it was down to 37 percent. We are becoming more and more individualistic also in our TV choices, and I'm convinced that this trend will continue. We can no longer speak of TV as a social adhesive, a unifying force," says Jakob Bjur.
There still are programs that attract really large audiences: the European Song Contest and games featuring the national soccer team, for example. But the TV landscape is different from what it was just a decade ago, with more players, more distribution channels, more ways of viewing, all in stiffening competition. Competition for viewers has prompted TV companies to seek out niche channels rather than finding programs to attract a huge audience. TV 4, for example, started out with a single channel, but today they have some 30 channels throughout the Nordic countries.
"People still gab," says Jakob Bjur. "But the discussion is on the Net instead, in specific groups, not least for TV series.
This fragmented/niched audience is moreover economically attractive: advertisers can zero in on the exact target group for their message. It's easy to find parents of small children, those interested in construction, or fashionistas.