What People Watch articles

What People Watch: Device-viewing trends

14 April 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 device-viewing trends in March have been influenced by programming events. But first, our regular update on weekly viewing trends.

TV set viewing to BARB-reported channels

Compared to the first two full-weeks of lockdown in 2020, the consolidated 7-day TV set viewing to BARB-reported channels has been lower in the past fortnight. The most recent week in 2021 saw viewing at 180 minutes a day, 41 minutes a day lower than the very high outlier from 2020. This 2021 week included Good Friday and Easter Monday, as well as good seasonal weather across parts of the UK. It should also be noted that this is also a more normal pattern for viewing at this time of year, with springtime declines from relative highs in January and February. For more details of viewing over Easter, see the Programming Update section below.

Live and same-day viewing figures for week 14 indicate that we should expect to see a slight rise in consolidated viewing for the week once data are available, as the current level of 176 minutes is only slightly behind the final figure from week 13. After several weeks at a lower level, unidentified viewing also looks to have increased again in week 14.

Viewing on devices

In previous editions of What People Watch we have seen how lockdown has impacted viewing on devices, both in terms of the overall level of viewing and the split between Live and On demand.

The latest data for the full month of March gives an update on these trends. Overall viewing minutes on non-TV devices increased year-on-year, to over 6.6 billion minutes in the month of March. This was helped by an increase for each device-type measured – PC/laptop, tablet and smartphone minutes were all up compared to March 2020. As a proportion of the total, smartphone minutes (25%) are still slightly lower than in the months before lockdown, so there is likely to still be some impact from lower levels of commuting.

The chart, which is based on the census-level data collected from all tagged services, also shows an upward trend in the proportion of time spent viewing live on non-TV devices. Looking in more detail at the multiple-screen viewing to programmes indicates that there are a couple of different drivers for this live increase.

Firstly, the percentage of live viewing on devices had already increased year-on-year in March 2020. One factor here was the ability to watch important news coverage of coronavirus restrictions via a device – this month saw a much more frequent appearance for news bulletins in the highest-ranked programmes watched live on a device, compared to the earlier months.

In the July edition of What People Watch linked above, we noted that the decline in live minutes from April 2020 onwards was influenced by the loss of live sport from TV schedules. Its return by March 2021 was certainly a contributing factor in delivering higher viewing. Even though March 2020 saw only the end of the month affected by the suspension of various competitions, levels of live viewing on a device for the top games have come back stronger.

Looking at average audiences, it’s clear that live football dominates the combined top 10 for March 2019, March 2020 and March 2021. Matches from 2021 take 4 of the top 5 places, led by Manchester United’s 2-0 derby win early in the month, so these matches will be contributing to the year-on-year uplift. The only match from March 2020 in the top 10 is coincidentally also a 2-0 derby win for Manchester United.

Across these three months, the Oprah interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex generated the largest live audience on devices – with over 424,000 live viewers. This is more than 125% higher than the #2 programme on the list – showing that it is not only live sport that generates the “I can’t miss this” feeling, even if you are not in front of your TV set.

Programming update

Consolidated 7-day ratings are now available for the Easter weekend, and across the four days, viewing to BARB-measured channels has returned to a lower level compared to last year. In 2020, as the UK continued through lockdown restrictions, there was 221 minutes of viewing a day across the four days. With the Easter weekend in 2021 seeing good weather, and with the relaxing of restrictions allowing people to meet outside, viewing fell to 194 minutes a day. This remained higher than 2019 (172 minutes a day).

Friday April 9th saw considerable changes to TV schedules, as the death of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was announced just after midday. With many channels turning immediately to rolling news coverage and tributes, the 1200-1300 hour saw clear uplifts in audience – aggregate viewing in the hour to all measured channels was 10% higher than the 4-week average. As well as increases for ITV and BBC One, the news channels were notably higher, with Sky News up 173% and BBC News up 96% versus their slot averages.

With the schedule changes leading to many primetime programmes being taken off air, both BBC One and ITV had news programming as their top programmes of the day (based on live and same-day viewing). As always, TV was the vehicle for people to keep across the breaking news, overall reach of all measured channels was over 39.4m people on Friday – this was 2% higher than the average of the previous four Fridays.

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

Jeremy Martin, Insights Manager, BARB


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