What People Watch articles

What People Watch: Nil TV set usage and guest viewing

29 June 2020

Welcome to What People Watch, a series exploring different aspects of how UK audiences are watching television now. In this week’s edition, we look at two lockdown viewing trends: an increase in nil TV set usage and changes in guest viewing.

TV set viewing to BARB-reported channels

For the week ending June 21st (calendar week 25), consolidated 7-day TV set viewing to BARB-reported channels was 191 minutes a day. This was consistent for the third week in a row, as indicated by the preliminary live and same-day viewing data last week, and was 21 minutes a day higher than the equivalent week of 2019.

Unidentified viewing for week 25 was 77 minutes a day, down 6 minutes versus the previous week.

The preliminary live and same-day viewing data for week 26 (week-ending June 28th) show that viewing to BARB-reported channels has fallen slightly versus the previous week to 168 minutes per day (from 176 minutes), so we may see a decline in the consolidated 7-day data as well, once these are available. Unidentified viewing for the week is also down slightly, to 75 minutes a day. However, both metrics remain higher than the equivalent weeks of 2019.

Nil TV set usage

One of BARB’s two sources of viewing data is the BARB panel, a sample of homes that together, represent television viewing across the UK. As part of the process of delivering daily audience data, we and our research contractors carry out a range of quality-control checks on the data, so that should any unusual patterns be discovered, they can be investigated further. Two of the viewing patterns that have been highlighted recently are examined below.

Throughout lockdown, we have been tracking the increasing level of TV set usage by the BARB panel; for weeks 13-24, TV set usage is around 15% higher on average than pre-lockdown. However, as part of the quality-control process, our research partners at RSMB identified that the number of panel members reporting nil TV set usage was also increasing. This metric includes any use of the TV set that would be captured by our metering technology. This is not what we would necessarily expect, at a time when people were at home more – so what is the reason for this?

Prior to lockdown, 1.4% of BARB panellists did not use their TV sets in a rolling four-week period on average. This was tracking slightly ahead of the three-year average for the same weeks. Since the start of lockdown in week 13 through to the end of May 2020, this four-week nil viewing metric has increased to 2.1% on average, and increased to around 2.5% during May, while the three-year average is largely unchanged.

Digging into the data through the QC process, it is clear that this growth is largely explained by panellists no longer living at home during lockdown, for example if they are living elsewhere to care for a relative, or isolating away from home because they are a key worker. We know that there are individuals in the wider population that have had to take these steps, so as always, we can see that the behaviour of the representative BARB panel reflects what is happening across the UK.

Guest viewing

BARB also reports viewing by guests in a panel household, for instance if the household has friends around to watch football or children for a play-date. Our data show that the percentage of panel homes reporting any guest viewing in a week is around 9% during lockdown (based on the start of lockdown until the end of May), compared to 21% for the same weeks of 2019. This drop is perhaps not surprising, given the lockdown restrictions on inviting friends and family into your home. The biggest impact is at the weekend: on a typical Sunday in April-May last year, around 8% of panel households would have guests visiting and watching TV, compared to 3% for Sundays in lockdown this year.

Further analysis by RSMB shows that despite the lower proportion of homes reporting any guest viewing, the homes that are still seeing some of this activity are reporting it happening more frequently. Averaged across the first ten weeks of lockdown, 18% of the homes that registered any guest viewing in a week reported that such viewing happened on every day of that week; by comparison, the figure for the same weeks of 2019 was just 5%. This indicates the presence of long-term guests in some homes, whether that be a student unexpectedly home from university, or a caregiver moving into a panel home for the lockdown period.

It is worth reiterating, of course, that despite nil TV set usage viewing increasing and guest viewing decreasing, it does not mean that levels of TV set usage have declined overall; we know they have been higher, but that lockdown restrictions have changed how and where people watch television.

Jeremy Martin, Insights Manager, BARB

Follow BARB on LinkedIn and Twitter to find out when new editions of What People Watch are released, and for all the latest BARB news.