The television set

Lord of the living room

Ninety six per cent of homes in the UK still have a TV set.1 But there is a rising number of alternative screens, from smartphones to PC monitors, on which television programmes and movies can also be watched.

However these alternative screens are inferior for the consumption of long-form content,and will remain so, over the next five years and, most likely, beyond. In brief, the smartphone, tablet and PC are very unlikely to render the TV set redundant.

This is not because of their picture quality – the resolution and colour accuracy and resolution of the latest smartphone, tablet and PC screens are ever more vivid – but because the screens are simply too small and, in many cases, the sound too compromised.

The TV set’s size and picture quality are steadily rising, and cost per diagonal inch of TV is falling. This is encouraging TV buyers to opt for ever larger, higher resolution TV sets, with the latest models offering enhanced colour and brightness ranges (HDR, or high dynamic range).

The quality of alternative screens will also continue to improve over the next five years – but smartphone, tablet and laptop screens will not get much larger. So TV’s relative size advantage compared to other screens will grow even further, consolidating its status as the default display device for long-form content. A 43-inch TV has 74 times the screen area as a 5-inch smartphone, 22 times that of a 10-inch tablet, and 11 times that of a 13-inch laptop.2

One of the principal upgrades to TV sets occurring now is the shift to UHD (ultra-high definition, also known as 4K, a reference to the number of pixels that each video frame consists of). Over the past five years, 4K sets have steadily crowded out HD variants, to the extent that the latter are now scarce. John Lewis offers 168 TV sets, of which just 28 are full HD or HD ready, and the rest 4K. Richer Sounds has 175 TV sets of which a mere 9 are full HD or HD ready.

The price of a 4K TV set in summer 2018 was a little over £300 for a 43-inch model;3 when 4K TV sets launched in 2012, prices reached into the tens of thousands of pounds, and were priced even higher than the first plasma TVs.4

In the first half of 2018, the bestselling sizes of TV set at John Lewis were 55 inches and 70 inches (respectively 121 and 189 times the screen area of a five-inch smartphone).5 Two World Cups previously, in 2010, the best sellers were 36 inches.6 At Argos, sales of 65-inch TV sets doubled over the course of a year.

The production of 4K and HDR content will lag the adoption of 4K and HDR ready television sets. But the supply of 4K and HDR content has already started to surge, and has become the default for drama and premier sports. Most films are available in 4K.

Drama destined for a TV set is cinematic in budget, and in quality. Sumptuous production values are becoming the default. Series including The Crown, Peaky Blinders, The Night Manager or Billions, deserve viewing on the largest, highest resolution screen available. As of October 2017, Netflix’s library featured 1,200 hours of 4K content and 200 hours of HDR content.7 Viewers are also being nudged into consuming in 4K. Every HD film purchased through Apple’s iTunes service can be upgraded to 4K + HDR at no additional cost, and the price of 4K content has been lowered to that for HD.8

TV viewers are being treated to a golden age of drama that should, based on the tens of billions of pounds in planned annual spend from established and emerging providers, yield ever more choice in high production value content.

And it’s not just drama that’s enjoying pristine production. Sports – arguably the ultimate drama – is at the forefront of picture quality. This year’s World Cup was the first in which every single game – and not just the last four matches – was captured in 4K and HDR.9 Matches at this year’s Wimbledon were captured in 4K and HDR.10 Every Formula 1 race is available in 4K this year.

TV dominates for long form, but not to the complete exclusion of other devices. As of February 2016, Netflix reported that half of all users watched at least some of its content on a smartphone. But this only represented 10 per cent of all viewing.11 Smartphones were used to watch contents in lunch breaks, or at the very end of the day.12 Seventy per cent of all Netflix viewing is on a TV set.13

For the BBC’s iPlayer, TV’s share of requests surged from 29 per cent in January 2016 to 54 per cent in March 2018; in that period, requests from mobile phones fell from 19 per cent to 10 per cent. From computers, it fell from 26 per cent to 15 per cent.14

Viewing patterns and preferences appear to be settling. According to Deloitte research, as of mid-2018 people of all age groups, from 16-75, prefer to watch long-form content (programmes or movies) on a TV set.

Younger age groups may end up watching more on smartphones or laptops, but this may be because of lack of access to the family TV set, rather than through choice. Among 18-24 year olds, while demand for short-form on smartphones increased year on year to mid-2018, there was little change in the proportion of people watching live TV, catch-up TV or films on a smartphone (see Figure X).

Bottom line
Rumours of the television set’s imminent demise, that have been circulating for decades, may remain premature for years, if not generations, to come.


2 For this calculation, the screen ratios of the smartphone and laptop have been assumed to be 16:9, but 4:3 for the tablet. This reflects screen ratios for best selling smartphones in each category.
3 As accessed on 20th August, 2018:
4; this chart shows the decline in average selling prices for 4K TVs over the years:

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