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Sharing family values

As ever, the underlying story here is one of continuity: the top four places in our table are pretty much as they were last year, give or take a fraction of a percentage point here and there.

Viewing, in other words, is still dominated by the established channels formerly known as the terrestrials. For instance, almost 37% of all viewing is accounted for by BBC One plus ITV; and the first five channels on the EPG take more than 52% of total audience share.

Both of these aggregate figures are actually up year on year: a notable performance during what is, supposedly, such a volatile era in the television industry.

But there are some fascinating evolutionary stories here too. Last year, we referred to speculation that BBC Three might soon become an online-only brand. Well, we need speculate no longer. Earlier this year, back in February, the channel departed from programme guides and became a brand distributed exclusively via the BBC iPlayer.

Will its audience follow it online, explore different BBC offerings, or drift off somewhere else? There has been much speculation about the wisdom of this strategy; one way or another it’s going to provide food for thought and material for a case study or two.

The first five channels on the EPG continue to take over 52% of total audience share: a notable performance in such a volatile era.

ITV may also be in two minds about the figures here. In recent years, as a group, it has been very successful in managing its high- profile programme brands across a portfolio of channels, compensating for audience pressures on its flagship channel with gains across the family as a whole.

This year, there’s a slightly different story underlying these figures. ITV, the channel, is up year on year, which is no mean achievement in the current marketplace. At the same time, its portfolio properties gathered under the other heading (the likes of ITV4 and Encore) have seen their share decline.

The Channel 4 family had a good year in terms of awards and critical acclaim: and it reaped the rewards in ratings terms, with yet another reassuringly steady performance at number three on our rankings.

Meanwhile, in mid table, Sky continues to perform solidly, slightly up year on year. Similarly, UKTV and Discovery have gained ground with share increases of 0.1 and 0.2 percentage points respectively.

A big story can be seen following Viacom’s acquisition of Channel 5 from Richard Desmond’s Northern and Shell. The enlarged Viacom family features an impressive portfolio of established brands like MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon; and the addition of Channel 5 enabled the group to capture an 8.2% share at number five in the table. Viacom recently stated that it sees significant potential for audience growth at its new UK flagship channel, so the forthcoming battle with its mid-table rivals will be fascinating.

Changes in ownership also explain one of the new entries in the lower reaches of the Top Ten. Sony Pictures Television comes in at number seven, thanks largely to its acquisition of CSC Media Group with its eclectic mix of music, general entertainment and children’s channels.

Also appearing for the first time is the portfolio of channels managed in a joint venture between CBS Studios International and AMC Network International (formerly Chellomedia). And lastly, it’s also worth acknowledging the re-entry, at number ten, of the Turner family of channels, which narrowly missed out on last year’s chart.

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