The Viewing Report

Bring on the box sets

3 May 2018

We’re all used to hearing industry chatter about the decline of TV viewing; and it’s true that traditional TV viewing declined from 212 minutes daily for the average person in 2016 to 203 minutes in 2017. Yet the total amount of time spent in front of the TV set is only marginally down, dropping by just two minutes a day.

The reason for that apparent disconnect is what’s called unmatched viewing, which has grown fast in recent years, accounting for 14% of all TV set activity in 2016, growing to 16% in 2017.

BARB defines unmatched viewing as time spent with the TV on but showing content that wasn’t broadcast as part of a linear schedule in the last 28 days. This includes gaming, viewing to SVOD services and shows that haven’t been broadcast in the previous four weeks. However, BARB can now identify the last of these and take it out of unmatched, if broadcasters provide us with their non-linear programme assets.

The table shows the top 50 most viewed non-linear programmes of 2017. We can begin to examine the patterns of behaviour when viewers can access libraries of on-demand content, including box-sets.

The table features multiple appearances of classic children’s programmes like The Gruffalo’s Child and Stick Man. These programmes made the top 50 for 2017 after being made available alongside a range of other BBC content via the BBC iPlayer over Christmas. It’s easy to picture the scene with little ones, parents and grandparents all enjoying these timeless classics. But the top 50 helps to illustrate the characteristics of on-demand, box-set viewing behaviour across the year too.

As we’d expect from what we’ve long known about timeshift behaviour, the rankings are dominated by drama series. In top place is Gunpowder, which premiered on BBC One in the autumn, and was highly acclaimed by critics and popular with audiences.

Multiple episodes of Top of the Lake (series two – China Girl) dominate the top of the chart, perhaps not surprising given its overall popularity and critical acclaim following the series two debut in 2017. Box set viewing seems to be baked into this programme – the first series launched at The Sundance Film Festival 2013 with a seven-hour screening of the whole series. Here in the top 50 we’re seeing what happened when the whole series was released on-demand on the day of its first broadcast.

This show illustrates a pattern over the lifetime of a series that has both a linear broadcast and on-demand availability. The later episodes accrue the bigger numbers, a consequence of viewers having more time to see the programme on-demand pre-broadcast and less patience to wait for the linear broadcast to find out how it ends.

A similar pattern is also in evidence for older series like Bad Education. Later episodes still capture the biggest views on-demand, perhaps because they were missed last time.

The online-only BBC Three also delivers some shows with on-demand audiences not far behind those for shows that have also had a broadcast airing. Here we see bold, hard-hitting, factual content that captured big audiences for one-off documentaries like Stacey Dooley investigates and I Shot My Parents.

This evidence of shifting viewer behaviour supports BARB’s development of techniques that enable the comprehensive measurement of viewing across all devices. We welcome working with broadcasters and rights owners on the reporting of non-linear viewing.

Non-linear viewing via TV sets in 2017*

Programme Average audience - individuals (000s)
Gunpowder Series 1 Episode 2925.4
Top of the Lake China Girl Episode 6860.4
Top of the Lake China Girl Episode 4843.3
Top of the Lake China Girl Episode 5817.0
Motherland Series 1 Episode 6811.1
Top of the Lake China Girl Episode 2802.7
Top of the Lake China Girl Episode 3760.0
Motherland Series 1 Episode 5759.1
Motherland Series 1 Episode 4677.2
Motherland Series 1 Episode 3666.9
Top of the Lake China Girl Episode 1523.8
Motherland Series 1 Episode 2518.4
Room on the Broom 489.4
Bad Education Series 3 Episode 4462.4
Bad Education Series 3 Episode 2444.4
Bad Education Series 3 Episode 3413.7
Clique Series 1 Episode 5393.0
Stacey Dooley Investigates Series 1 Episode 8376.2
Bad Education Series 3 Episode 5371.0
Clique Series 1 Episode 6367.5
Stick Man 360.2
The Tunnel: Vengeance Series 3 Episode 6360.1
The Gruffalo 355.3
Stacey Dooley Investigates Series 1 Episode 8353.0
Bad Education Series 3 Episode 1351.8
The Tunnel: Vengeance Series 3 Episode 4349.7
The Gruffalo's Child 339.2
Quacks Series 1 Episode 2337.9
Clique Series 1 Episode 3336.8
Murdered for Being Different 330.8
Clique Series 1 Episode 4329.9
The Tunnel: Vengeance Series 3 Episode 5328.5
Reggie Yates: Hidden Australia Series 1 Episode 1322.1
Little Britain Series 1 Episode 3305.7
Quacks Series 1 Episode 6302.1
Love and Drugs on the Street: Girls Sleeping Rough Series 1 Episode 1296.1
Quacks Series 1 Episode 1294.9
Sex, Drugs & Murder: Life in the Red Light Zone Series 1 Episode 4293.4
The Tunnel: Vengeance Series 3 Episode 3286.6
Stacey Dooley Investigates Series 1 Episode 0284.7
I Shot My Parents 281.6
Quacks Series 1 Episode 3281.1
This Country Series 1 Episode 1280.9
People Just Do Nothing Series 1 Episode 1269.9
W1A Series 3 Episode 6269.8
Jamie Johnson Series 1 Episode 3267.3
Bad Education Series 3, Episode 6267.1
W1A Series 3 Episode 2265.9
Billionaire Boy Series 1 Episode 1261.0
Gangsta Granny Series 1 Episode 1257.3
Source: BARB panel, non-linear viewing via TV sets to programmes 10 minutes+ in duration, 1 January - 31 December 2017
*Table includes content from rights owners that have provided their programme assets for measurement by BARB