White-knuckle infotainment

So, you got bored of five channels? Repeats of Ground Force getting too much? I see you went and got cable... very nice. Have you watched CNN yet? Or, for all you sports fans, how about Gillette Soccer Saturday on Sky Sports? If so, you’ll know the format. Scrolling tickers (usually informing me that Cardiff City have conceded another goal), newsflashes, current highlights and tables, with a minimum of 2 anchormen flashing in and out of the main window. You want information? Hey, you got it!

[CB 2018: image lost to the mists of time, but you can guess…]

Well, guess what? A recent study shows that this doesn’t work. Apparently all the scrolling text and flashing updates distract the viewer from the real message, meaning their information retention actually drops 10%.

Hardly shocking, but this has been known in the web community since at least 1996 - and yet TV networks still try to ignore it. Why? I blame the well-known melding of broadcast information and entertainment. The web is about giving users information and letting them get on with it. Television is about keeping them watching, particularly up to the ad break.

Networks believe that the way to increase the viewing figures is to make information available in a fast-paced, exciting rollercoaster format. Comprehension and retention are now secondary to the white-knuckle thrill of heady information deluge. In short, it doesn’t really matter what you understand, so long as you have a damn good time trying!

I, for one, miss the days of the stuttering vidiprinter and Ceefax, and this is why I’ll do my best to shun the pseudo-information quagmire that TV broadcasting is slipping into

Cennydd Bowles