Traditional methods of TV viewing have remained popular due to television’s ability to create a communal experience when we are isolated at home
It is not surprising, given how home-bound we now are, that we are watching more TV; nor is it surprising that on-demand streaming services are still doing well. What has changed, however, is how and what else we are watching: a lot of news, and much more so-called “linear TV”, at or near the time of broadcast. Group-watching used to apply mostly to sport fixtures and season finales. Now it happens across programming, from The Great British Bake Off, to All Creatures Great and Small, to Gardeners’ World, which has seen its best figures in a decade.
Perhaps that is not surprising either. Linear TV, and especially format TV with its reassuringly exact timing and predictable narratives, can give both variation and structure to days both monotonously similar and uncertain. It gives isolated people a collective experience to discuss things beyond an invisible threat in the very air. If the term “water-cooler TV” now sounds hopelessly old-fashioned – not least because the offices in which those water-coolers might have been situated feel like a thing of the past – the instinct remains, and the gatherings are now on Twitter, WhatsApp, Teleparty, or below the line in a liveblog, where the discussion can be intimate and insightful.