What People Watch: Age profile of news viewing

21 April 2020

Welcome to What People Watch, a new series exploring different aspects of how UK audiences are watching television now. In this week’s edition, we focus on the changing age profile of news viewing in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

TV set viewing to Barb-reported channels

With lockdown restrictions continuing, we are still seeing consistently high television viewing figures. For the week ending April 12th 2020 (calendar week 15), consolidated 7-day TV set viewing to Barb-reported channels was 214 minutes a day on average. This is a slight decrease (-7 minutes) on the previous week, but for the fourth week in a row, viewing remains much higher than for the same week in 2019.

The level of unidentified viewing (all types of TV set use that aren’t viewing to a Barb-reported channel or service) saw a very slight dip to 93 minutes a day in week 15.

The preliminary figures for week 16 (the week ending April 19th) are also included on the chart, based on live and same-day TV set viewing only (dashed line). Again, both types of viewing remain high, and the TV set viewing figure will increase once consolidated viewing is included. On a like-for-like comparison of live and same-day TV set viewing, week 16 is on par with the levels of week 15, but remains much higher than the seasonal average. This chart will be updated with final figures for week 16 in the next edition.

Age profile of news viewing

In the first edition of What People Watch, we looked at the growth in reach of 24-hour rolling news channels and the increased viewing figures for national news broadcasts during the pandemic. This week, we return to the news genre to investigate how the age profile of viewing to news programmes has changed in this period.

Across all news programmes broadcast on BBC1, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, BBC News and Sky News in weeks 13-15 2020, the average TV set audience per programme was over 725k viewers. This is 300k viewers higher than the year-to-date average, a 70% increase. This uplift is spread across all age groups; although older age groups continue to watch more news, viewers of all ages are watching more news coverage than previously.

The chart also shows that the rate of growth differs by age group. The blue line gives the percentage growth in audience for each age group versus the yearly average. News viewing by younger age groups has grown fastest, with all groups between ages 4-44 seeing more than 100% growth. Adults aged 25-34 have seen the highest increase; their news viewing is 133% higher in these three weeks compared to earlier in the year. Although adults aged 65+ still watch the most news, their rate of growth was the lowest, and they are the only group where the percentage uplift (44% increase) is lower than the growth for all individuals 4+ (70% increase).

These shifts have altered the overall age profile of the news genre during the lockdown. For the year to date, 32% of the viewing to news on these channels was from viewers aged under 55; in weeks 13-15, this has increased to 38%.

This chart splits out the change in the age profile of news viewing on individual channels during the period. All of these channels have contributed to the overall downward movement of the news age profile, with each having a greater proportion of viewing coming from viewers under 45.

The 24-hour news channels have seen the greatest change, as more viewers of all ages have tuned in to get the latest developments. The proportion of Sky News viewers that are aged 55+ has dropped from 55% to 44%, with particular growth from adults 25-54. BBC News has also grown in each segment within this group. Like Sky News, these shifts in the younger age groups have had an aggregate effect on the overall BBC News channel profile; for the year-to-date, 60% of viewing to BBC News was from viewers 55+, in week 13-15 this was down to 49%.

The news programmes that have seen the biggest change in age profile are the BBC1 News at One and News at Six. In weeks 13-15, viewing to the News at One was 188% higher than the year-to-date average among viewers aged 4-34, increasing over 150k from a low base. This compared to a 51% growth among viewers 55 and older.

Despite all these proportional changes, it’s worth reiterating that news viewing among older viewers is not falling, just growing at a slower rate than among younger viewers. For all the channels above, viewing in every age group is higher in weeks 13-15 than for the year-to-date.

Programming focus

Consolidated 7-day TV set data are now available for the Easter weekend, with viewing to Barb-reported channels over the four days averaging 3 hours 41 minutes daily. This is almost 50 minutes per day higher than Easter 2019, and with both these years enjoying fine weather across much of the UK, it’s possible to see the impact that lockdown restrictions had on viewing levels.

What People Watch will return next week with more insights into UK viewing behaviour.

Jeremy Martin, Insights Manager, Barb

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