Is this the Platinum Age of TV?
Simon Moynihan
Staff Writer

The way we watch our favourite TV programmes has dramatically changed over the last few years, leading to what has been called the 'Platinum Age of Television'. We take a look at the driving forces behind the TV revolution and list some of the best deals currently available.

TV has never been better, says revered American TV critic David Bianculli.

Bianculli is a professor of Television (yes, you can actually be such a thing), he's been a TV critic for more than 40 years, and he’s just released a book called “The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific”.

The title of Bianculli’s new book may be a bit of a mouthful, but the premise is straightforward enough: the debut of two new TV shows at the dawn of the millennium changed the world of TV, and made it much, much better. And those two shows? The West Wing, and The Sopranos.

The West Wing, which was made by NBC, was one of the last truly great broadcast dramas according to the author, and The Sopranos, which was made by HBO, was one of the first truly great cable dramas. But it was The Sopranos in particular that ushered in the era of TV innovation and excellence that we have today.

Era of TV excellence

This era of excellence, which was initially dominated by paid television stations like HBO and Showtime, ultimately led the way for streaming services, on-demand viewing, and oodles of quality TV shows.

Don’t believe it? Well, have you seen Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Band of Brothers or House of Cards? Or... are you watching Divorce, The Crown, Stranger Things or Westworld?

Well, I am, they're brilliant, and I’m certainly not waiting patiently until 9 o’clock on Sunday night to catch the next episode of my latest favourite show… and I’ll bet that you’re not either.

So I agree with Bianculli. We are in a platinum age of TV. But it’s the choice, and particularly the access, that makes this era truly extraordinary. Just stop and think about it for a minute... we can now view top-shelf telly at any time, from anywhere, and on any device – whether it’s on our phones, our laptops, or even our humble old TVs.

And then there was Netflix

Netflix is a true phenomenon of this Platinum Age, and the ubiquity of viewing has seen Netflix clock nearly 90 million subscribers to date. And it's those subscribers that have helped the company's share price rocket from $4 to $117 in just seven years. And if only you’d seen that coming… well you’d have made an absolute gosh-darn fortune.

Netflix has also just announced that they’ll be following Sky Go’s lead and allowing customers to download content and watch it whenever and wherever - without the need for an internet connection - so now there’s basically nowhere you can’t indulge in a box-set binge.

But it’s really all about the content isn’t it?

Yes, it is... which brings us neatly to Sky, and one of the things Sky has that Netflix doesn’t, is fresh HBO content. And it’s Sky Atlantic where you’ll see gems like The Affair, Westworld, and Sharon Horgan’s wonderfully salacious Divorce. Which, of course, are all available to stream, download or… even watch on the telly! And it's HBO content that likely drove Netflix to make their own quality shows too.

So what’s driven this explosion in viewing, bingeing, and quality content?

Well, it’s got to be the ISPs. Huge improvements in infrastructure have led to massive increases in speed which have led to huge increases in data consumption. And although there are certainly problem areas across Ireland where broadband speeds are still very poor, the fact is that more than 60% of the population is currently serviced by speeds of 30 Mbps or more – which is fast enough to do just about anything you need to.

At last count, an average broadband subscriber in Ireland was using nearly 100 GB of data per month – which is enough for about 250 hours of standard definition TV, movies, and whatever you’re having yourself. Per month! And Virgin Media customers - who typically have the fastest connections - are using 20% more data than that!

Online TV

Better internet connections have led to yet another dramatic innovation. Online only TV. Your regular channels, your regular schedule, and all serviced by your internet connection.

So no need for cable, or satellite, just a decent internet connection, and now we now have Eir Vision and Vodafone TV, both with streaming services and premium options like Sky Sports, Eir Sports and BT Sports. But then, as Eir CEO Richard Moat said last month “Telcos are turning into media companies”. And he’s not wrong.

Traditional TV versus on-demand and streaming

The streaming revolution, which is a surprisingly recent phenomenon, is having a huge effect on the traditional TV industry, and news that TV companies are losing TV subscribers is not really news anymore.

According to a recent UK survey, the majority of millennials say that they don’t watch broadcast TV anymore, and although a majority of the 45+ generation still do, they are also streamers, and say that the benefit of on-demand is that they can enjoy content in any way, and and at any time that suits them.

But we do still watch TV. Lots of it. Nearly three and a half hours a day according to Nielsen, and that doesn’t include catch-up services or streaming.

So what are we all watching then?

Well, absolutely tons of sport... in the most recent ratings, six of the top ten shows on RTE 2 were football games, and the number one spot was held firmly by the GAA. Which goes a way towards explaining Eir's purchase of Setanta. Then over on RTE 1, the Late Late Show hit the top spot with the Nine O’clock news coming in a close second.

Weirdly enough though, when we’re watching TV, we also like to watch TV about watching TV. Gogglebox is Channel 4’s number 1 show, and with the Irish Gogglebox now on TV3, maybe we can expect the same thing here too.

But even with all the streaming services and all the box sets, we still do love the aul’ telly.  I mean, didn’t you watch the Toy Show? Live? Well, I sure did... and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

So, if you’re in a traditional TV frame of mind, here’s a few brilliant deals, from some of Ireland’s biggest TV companies, where you can get all the Christmas movies, streaming box sets and fab regular TV you need.