It’s not every year that a major broadcaster radically reconfigures one of its flagship assets. Back in February 2016, BBC Three ceased to exist as a linear broadcast TV channel and became an internet-only phenomenon, with its content available for streaming via BBC iPlayer and social media platforms.
So of course we were intrigued to see how this would impact on the viewing share league table. In 2015, BBC Three had a 1.1% share of viewing. Surely, many people reasoned, its departure from the EPG would impact directly on the BBC family proposition as a whole.
Well, were the naysayers right? The short answer is… sort of. The BBC’s collective share slipped by 0.7% in 2016, so not as much as BBC Three’s share in 2015. That said, we should remember that these audience share figures don’t yet include viewing through PCs, tablets and smartphones.
It’s a salutary reminder that this isn’t a simplistic zero-sum game: viewer behaviour is fiendishly difficult to model or predict. Because of course we may feel loyalty not just to programmes and channels but to broadcast companies and institutions too.
As indeed is evident when we look at the bigger picture and the table as a whole. The 2016 rankings contain exactly the same broadcaster groups as last year’s, and they’re pretty much in the same order. The only substantive change sees Sony and Discovery swap places.
This isn’t a simplistic zero-sum game: viewer behaviour is fiendishly difficult to model or predict
The year-on-year changes in share are minimal. And the first five channels on the EPG still command just over 52% of UK viewing. It is, in short, a picture of stability and continuity. On this evidence, Britain’s TV execs are peerless portfolio managers.
ITV is a great case in point: its flagship channel is down slightly but that’s more than offset by creditable performance elsewhere in the group. Its overall figure is actually up.
Meanwhile Channel 4 continues to hold its own while fulfilling a tricky remit to be innovative and challenging while being commercially funded by advertising.
And we’re seeing the continuation of a fascinating story in mid-table. For the last few years the rivalry between Sky and Viacom has been nip and tuck. Both are clearly ambitious companies that see potential for growth in the UK – and both have high hopes of closing in on a top three place. But there were no fireworks here in 2016. Sky is down a fraction, Viacom is up a sliver, and the gap between the two, which was small last year, has now closed.
Meanwhile, the group showing the greatest year-on-year improvement was UKTV, up one-third of a point. This is surely a ringing endorsement of its portfolio management (it boasts 11 channels) and its ability to knit schedules together from distinctive new commissions alongside shows originally aired on the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.
AMC, which claimed a place in the top ten for the first time in 2015, has retained its place at number nine. Turner can view this table with satisfaction too. It narrowly missed out on the top ten in 2014 but re-entered the chart last time. Retaining its place at number ten is no mean achievement.