What People Watch articles

What People Watch: Regional lockdown

19 August 2020

Welcome to What People Watch, a series exploring different aspects of how UK audiences are watching television now. This edition revisits regional differences to see how the local lockdown in the north of England has impacted viewing, as well as taking a broad overview of viewing by month since the start of the public health crisis.

TV set viewing to BARB-reported channels

For the week ending August 9th (calendar week 32), consolidated 7-day TV set viewing to BARB-reported channels was 164 minutes, 7 minutes lower than the previous week. This is only the second time since lockdown began that the weekly consolidated figure has dropped below the same figure for 2019. In this instance the 2020 figure is 6 minutes (3.2%) below the 2019 figure for week 32. The other time this happened was in week 22 when the consolidated figure of 176 minutes was 2 minutes (1.1%) below the 2019 figure.

Unidentified viewing for the week was down nationally week-on-week, at 68 minutes a day from 70 minutes the previous week. This figure held steady in week 33, falling only fractionally.

At this time of year we would expect to see a drop-off in average viewing minutes as people watch less TV during warmer summer months. While this is no normal year, the chart above shows this pattern. If we consider the change in average viewing minutes from lockdown peak we see that unidentified viewing has proportionally fallen to a slightly greater degree than viewing to BARB-monitored channels. The peak of unidentified viewing occurred in week 14 (96 minutes) with the week 32 figure 29% lower. The peak of BARB-reported viewing occurred a week earlier (week 13 – 226 minutes) and is 27% lower in week 32.

It is difficult to determine the normal level of unidentified TV set use, but it may be that the decline observed above indicates a return to more normal levels of unidentified TV set use alongside time spent with BARB-monitored channels.

Consolidated 7-day and unidentified TV set use in north-west England
In the ninth edition of What People Watch, we considered how audiences in different regions of the UK had changed their viewing behaviour in light of lockdown. The recent tightening of lockdown in the north of England allows us to consider location once more as we see if this particular region reverts to a similar pattern of viewing as was established during lockdown.

We should acknowledge that the areas in the north of England impacted by this local lockdown do not conform perfectly to any one television region, but the North West television region includes Greater Manchester and a number of the areas around it that are impacted.
Restrictions were introduced on July 30th, in the middle of week 31, making week 32 the first full week of viewing data we have to judge if there has been a discernible change in viewing behaviour. The chart above shows that viewing to BARB reported channels is customarily higher in the North West region than it is in the UK as a whole. During 2020 as a whole it ranks 5th in terms of the regions watching the most television in the UK. During week 32 it ranks 6th, so local lockdown doesn’t appear to have impacted consolidated viewing to BARB channels markedly; the yellow bars on the chart remain above the UK average, and at similar levels to previous weeks.

The bigger change appears to have come in the amount of unidentified viewing occurring in the region. Usually the North West reports less unidentified viewing than the rest of the UK. During 2020 so far there is an average of 4.6% less unidentified viewing in this region versus the UK as a whole. This was last not the case in weeks 20 and 21. During week 31 and more markedly in week 32 we see that unidentified viewing in the North West was ahead of the UK figure by 5.8% at 72 minutes compared to a national figure of 68 minutes for week 32.

Unidentified viewing in the North West also moved ahead of other regions, ranking 6th during week 32. The average ranking for the region across 2020 is 11th and only during week 21 has the North West ranked more highly (in 5th).

As ever with unidentified viewing we cannot be precise about the source of this increase, but perhaps on this occasion the cause, local lockdown, is evident.

Total TV set use
July screentime
During July we saw total TV set use remain ahead of the levels recorded in July 2019. Overall screen time was up 17% versus last year, with viewing to BARB-reported channels up 6.3% and unidentified viewing up by just over half – 52.7% compared to 12 months earlier. Viewing to non-linear channels has almost doubled in the same time, but remains relatively low at an average of 2.6 minutes per person for July 2020.

Clearly viewing volumes are still being influenced by the public health crisis, but it does appear that this influence is receding. March, April, May and June were respectively the 3rd, 1st, 2nd and 4th heaviest months of TV set usage since 2016. July 2020 ranked 17th with total screen time at 257 minutes. This figure is close to the figures achieved in December 2018 (264 minutes) and December 2019 (261 minutes) when we would expect TV set usage to be high, so clearly still a significant figure for a summer month. It is, in fact, the highest July figure in the last five years – 24 minutes ahead of the July 2016 figure.

As highlighted earlier in this article viewing for August appears to be heading lower again, as we would expect during summer holidays. When we have consolidated data for the whole month it will be interesting to see if 2020 viewing has settled back to what we might consider normal volumes.

Doug Whelpdale, Insights Manager, BARB

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