Our growing ability to access on-demand entertainment is all well and good, writes Greg Dixon, but what we really need is more time.

So here are my choices: do I lie on the couch tomorrow afternoon and start watching the 10-part television show Fargo, which has been clogging up my MySky box for months? Or do I lie on the couch and watch the film Moonrise Kingdom, which has been on my MySky box for months? Or maybe I should lie on the couch and surf Sky? Or perhaps watch whatever's new on Sky's pay-per-view movies? Or maybe I could fire up Apple TV and find out what new films and documentaries are available on iTunes? Or maybe I could use Apple TV to watch The Necessary War, a Max Hastings' documentary series about World War I, that someone somewhere has illegally uploaded on to YouTube? Or perhaps I should dig out that boxset of Wallander I bought last year but still haven't got round to watching? Or maybe I could lie on the bed instead and watch the director's cut of Amadeus that I loaded on to my iPad a couple of weeks ago? Or maybe I should spend an hour finally getting myself connected to Netflix and get stuck into the very latest in US TV?

I will not even bother mentioning the pile of books that needs attention, or the latest copies of the two magazines to which we subscribe that I have still to read. Actually, I know what I'll probably end up doing tomorrow afternoon: just sitting quietly on the couch, staring into space and feel racked with indecision and guilt.

Who said choice was a good thing? Who said you can never have enough entertainment?

When it comes to films and television I have been so spoilt by easy access to them that I have arrived at a position where I can honestly say I understand the concept of too much of a good thing.


I do realise that this is the most First World, most middle-class of problems, is therefore sickening and that I should just shut up and enjoy it - or whatever. But with the announcement last week by Telecom that it will soon be offering a new $15 a month on-demand all-you-can-eat television service called Lightbox (Sky has already signalled it will also be offering an on-demand service before the end of the year, while Slingshot offers a service that helps you connect to overseas content sites like Netflix), the volume of home entertainment available (or soon to be) for those with the disposable income to pay for it is now beyond saturation.

The strange bit it is that, as a child of the 60s, I've been dreaming about this day since I was a kid.

A lot of nonsense gets talked about the good old days. In the good old days, there was bugger all of anything, least of all choice. As everybody who watched TV in the early 1970s knows - this when I first joined the telly generation - there was just a single channel with very limited hours, no such thing as video, let alone on-demand viewing and you had to wait years for overseas programmes to be screened here. It was not until the mid-to-late 1980s that there was something like choice.

Actually, I think if I'd been shown the current contents of my living room - flat-screen telly, internet-connected boxes, iPad, and so on - even as recently as the 1990s and told that I had access to almost any film or TV show I cared to watch, I would have exploded with joy at the bright, shiny, super-connected future.

And it's not like this future of ours has turned out like Bruce Springteen's 57 Channels (and nothing on). We now have the equivalent of a Springsteen channel and there's so much good stuff to watch.

At the same time, this super-connected future just keeps getting more and more unwieldy. With so many companies now recognising that entertainment content delivered on-demand by broadband - rather than by broadcast TV, satellite TV, DVDs, Blu-Ray and the like (you have to wonder what the future of the MySky-type digital video recorders is in an on-demand world) - the rush to be in the on-demand market is on. And while these platforms may individually have relatively low monthly costs, they soon add up and there are very few of us who will be able to afford to take them all.

However, the biggest problem isn't money, it's time. Entertainment is no longer the scarce resource it was in the 70s, 80s or even 1990s. Today, the scarcest and most precious resource is our attention.

That is a huge problem for these companies: how can they get us to take notice of them, sign up and stay signed up. But it's our problem, too. Each time a new service launches, it does so with promises of yet-unseen-but-must-watch delights and we (well, I) can't help leaping at it like so many lemmings and signing up to hours of stuff we will struggle to make room for in our busy schedules.

And then I find myself sitting quietly on the couch, staring into space, feeling racked with
indecision and guilt and wondering what it profits a man to gain the whole world of entertainment and not have time to watch it?