What People Watch

What People Watch: Comparing genre-viewing between lockdowns

17 March 2021

Welcome to a new edition of What People Watch, a series exploring different aspects of how UK audiences are watching television now. This week, we look at how trends in genre-viewing differ between current and previous lockdowns.

TV set viewing to BARB-reported channels

As suggested by the earlier live figures, consolidated 7-day viewing to BARB channels has dipped slightly below 200 minutes per day as of week 8 2021, and reached 196 minutes for week 9. Preliminary figures for week 10 (week-commencing March 8th) suggest that we will also see similar levels next week, as the continuing lockdown restrictions mean that viewing remains higher than a year ago.

BARB’s unidentified viewing category is also seeing recent declines. After reaching a 2021 high of 96 minutes a day in week 7, this has now reduced to 82 minutes on average for the last three weeks.

Viewing by genre

One of the elements from the first national lockdown last year that impacted viewing was the way that broadcast schedules had to adapt, with filming restrictions put in place to manage the pandemic. We reported on this in the fifth edition of What People Watch.

With adapted working-practices now in place to help programmes continue to be made safely, the continuing 2021 lockdown has seen fewer changes to schedules – so how does this show in the data?

The chart shows the percentage-point change in both schedule-minutes and viewing-minutes between January-February 2021 and a benchmark period of weeks 12-22 2020, representing the first national lockdown in March to May. These are the relative changes in each genre between the two periods, each reflecting 100% of the relevant total, and not whether the total minutes are higher or lower. Bars to the right of the axis show where 2021 was higher than March-May, and bars to the left show where this year is lower.

A couple of immediate trends stand out. Although news viewing still remains high, it is less of a focus for viewers than in the original lockdown, with its contribution to the total amount of viewing dropping compared to last year.

This is influenced by the incredibly high levels of news viewing that we saw in March 2020, when getting the latest news on restrictions was all-important. Although some 2021 news events have still delivered high audiences – the Prime Ministerial broadcast announcing the new lockdown in January is the most-watched broadcast of the year so far – overall there has been less viewing to news.

The clear winner in terms of viewing was the Sport genre. March-May 2020 was heavily impacted by the loss of live sport from TV schedules, with the Six Nations rugby tournament suspended and football fixtures off our screens as leagues were halted. The proportion of schedule-minutes did not change as much, as sports-dedicated channels switched to repeat and archive content, a lower draw for audiences than live games.

In 2021, live sport is back on our screens and with stadia closed to spectators and fans also unable to watch in pubs, viewing on TV has increased. Viewing to sport has been over five percentage points higher in 2021, the largest relative gain of any genre.

Most other genres were relatively stable in both schedule-duration and viewing across the two periods, with Documentary viewing seeing a relative gain. There was also a drop in the schedule-proportion for the Children’s genre, as some linear channels for this audience have closed since last spring, reducing the amount of content from this genre on air.

Overall, linear TV viewing is 1.4% higher in January-February 2021 compared to the March-May 2020 period, demonstrating again that lockdown and the impact of seasonality have combined to drive TV viewing upwards.

Programming update

It’s not just the governmental announcements that have drawn high audiences this year.  On Monday, March 8th ITV broadcast Oprah Winfrey’s interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Based on 7-day consolidated TV set viewing this programme had an average audience of 13.85m Individuals 4+, the highest non-coronavirus programme of 2021 so far. Audience share in the timeslot was over 50%. The programme has also delivered more than 950,000 viewers on non-TV devices so far, giving a 4-screen total after 7 days of 14.81m.

What People Watch will return with further insights into current viewing behaviour.

Jeremy Martin, Insights Manager, BARB


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