People will continue to consume most audio and video according to a linear broadcast schedule, despite the availability of on-demand alternatives. Deloitte predicts that through 2010 over 90% of all television watched and over 80% of all audio content consumed will be from traditional broadcast. It concludes that advertisers should not necessarily accept the common perception that television audiences are in long-term decline.

“The sovereignty of the schedule runs counter to many commentators’ expectations,” observes Deloitte in its Media Predictions 2010. Although many industry executives and their families and friends may already largely bypass broadcast schedules, these still dominate the mass market.

Average television viewing is between 20 to 30 hours a week in most major markets, compared to 1.5 to 2 hours for all forms of nonlinear viewing, including DVD, DVR, or VOD.

The supremacy of the schedule is put down to “ease of use and inertia”. For some the ability to choose what and when to watch or hear is a necessity, but for those that are less constrained by time, choosing programmes one-by-one is “tedious and superfluous”.

It is proposed that the availability of on-demand can actually increase the demand for scheduled programming, as catch-up services encourage people to watch or listen to the next scheduled broadcast.

The emphasis on on-demand and the supposed imminent demise of linear broadcasting are put down to misinterpretation of market data. This includes self-reported surveys in which respondents tend to reflect an idealised view rather than their actual viewing and listening habits. This may overstate the use of new media and new devices, while overlooking hours spent with traditional media, such as listening to the radio while commuting. Industry metrics for online viewing are also not directly comparable with those for broadcasting.

“It may be that in the long run, the majority of all audio and video consumed will be nonlinear,” concedes Deloitte, but rather than resenting the “tyranny of the schedule,” hundreds of millions of individuals will continue to spend at least 40% of their waking hours watching television or listening to the radio in the traditional manner.

The lesson from this is that consumers do not necessarily embrace the possibilities of new technology and the behaviours of early adopters do not always become mainstream. However, consumers will value and pay for the availability of choice and even appear content to purchase devices and subscribe to services that they hardly ever use.

These and other predictions from Deloitte are consistent with the cautions that informitv has often issued to media and technology companies that are convinced consumers will want to watch whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want. The irony is that the mass market is actually driven by people being told what they want, and when and where they can get it, generally by the mass media.

Technologists often tend to overstate the pace of change. This is particularly notable of male, middle class, middle aged executives who by their own admission do not watch much television and appeal to observations of their teenage children, who may be equally unrepresentative of the population as a whole.

The key to understanding changing consumer behaviour is sociology as much as technology. The reasons that people watch television or listen to the radio are largely social, to do with a need for connection with a wider community. While new communications technologies, such as the internet, can fulfil this in new ways, traditional broadcast media remain remarkably powerful means to inform, educate and entertain, to contribute to the narrative and structure of our lives, and it seems there is little immediate sign of this changing.