What People Watch

What People Watch 2021 – Edition 1: Total TV set usage

13 January 2021

Welcome to a new edition of What People Watch, a series exploring different aspects of how UK audiences are watching television now. With a national lockdown now in place, this edition shows how viewing patterns have started to change once more, as well as taking at look at some viewing trends from December, traditionally the peak period of the year.

TV set viewing to BARB-reported channels
Weekly viewing

Our regular chart on weekly viewing to linear TV channels and unidentified viewing has been updated to start tracking viewing through 2021 versus a year ago. With calendar week 1 2021 including the start of the new lockdown, we have seen viewing levels remain high. Partially-consolidated data for January 4th-10th shows that linear TV viewing for the week averaged 210 minutes a day, 17 minutes higher than the comparative period of 2020 (week 2, January 6th-12th). We would also expect this gap to increase slightly when the remaining consolidated viewing is included. Unidentified viewing also continued to be at a much higher level.

This follows on from generally higher levels of TV set usage from December (see below). In terms of the weeks over the festive period, both weeks 52 and 53 2020 were much higher than the respective periods of 2019. With opportunities for socialising lower than in previous years due to Christmas restrictions, viewing to linear TV channels increased.

Total TV set use
TV set usage

With Total TV set usage data now available across the whole year, it’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a sustained impact on viewing. After levels in January and February were relatively stable year-on-year, the arrival of the first national lockdown in March pushed viewing to BARB-reported channels and unidentified viewing (from sources such as gaming and viewing to SVOD services and video-sharing platforms on a TV) higher than 2019. From that point onwards, Total TV set usage was higher in 2020 than the same months of 2019.

The most recent data for December shows that 7-day consolidated viewing of a BARB-reported channel on a TV set, unidentified viewing, and viewing to non-linear channels measured by BARB totalled 302 minutes overall for the month, the second time this year that Total TV usage has exceeded 300 minutes a day for a calendar month (April was 306 minutes).

Viewing to BARB-reported channels was at its highest level for December since 2017, and increased +5% on December 2019. For the calendar-year, Total TV set usage increased over 34 minutes a day compared to 2019, a +15% increase.

Programming update

Prime Minister Boris Johnson once again addressed the nation on January 4th, to announce a new national lockdown. Broadcast across five TV channels, the nine minutes of the speech averaged just over 25.1 million individuals 4+, a 77.3% share of viewing at this time, based on consolidated 7-day TV set viewing. Compared to the announcement of the original lockdown in March 2020 (28.2m), this audience was slightly lower, but remains a very significant level of viewing.

The stay-at-home restrictions also impacted TV viewing around New Year, with elevated levels of viewing compared to previous years. Overall Total TV ratings for December 31st between 2300-0015 were at their highest level since 2015. Looking at a specific programme example, Jools’ Annual Hootenanny achieved a reach of 10.2m (Live and VOSDAL only) on BBC 2. This figure was almost 3m higher for the programme than any year back to 2002.

With TV schedules once again starting to adapt to the needs of lockdown, What People Watch will return with further insights into current viewing behaviour.

Doug Whelpdale, Insights Manager, BARB

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