The Viewing Report

Capturing the rise and rise of drama by Rachel Shaw

12 May 2020

Killing Eve © BBC

Drama has become the defining genre of the new video landscape. Drama titles dominate the list of top television shows – two thirds of 2019’s top 100 shows in the UK came from this category. Each year this domination grows. And drama doesn’t just make an impact in terms of audience volume; we know from speaking to viewers that it also creates deep and long-lasting memories. Drama provides emotional value, driving conversations and creating common bonds.

It’s not surprising therefore that drama is as crucial for SVOD platforms as it is for linear television. Indeed, it’s where the SVOD platforms are concentrating their efforts. Close to 60% of content hours on Netflix and Amazon in 2019 came from the drama category. It’s where they spend both their commissioning and their marketing money.

Drama ticks a number of boxes for SVOD services. It’s a great acquisition tool, driving subscription revenue and bringing people to trial the service for the first time. Drama series are also highly emblematic of a service: think of The Crown for Netflix, Transparent for Amazon or Game of Thrones for Now TV. These shows kickstarted the SVOD revolution. Returnable series amplify value; length of series drives habit. The modern-day linear scheduler must compete against both the present, and the past.

The BBC is leading the way in premium drama, with Line of Duty topping the top 10 broadcast television dramas in 2019. We, like all channels, continue to look for ways to amplify the impact of our dramas, such as through different forms of scheduling. Line of Duty moved from BBC2 to BBC1 to create greater exposure for younger audiences. When we brought back Luther in 2019, we stripped it across the week, creating a welcome appointment-to-view in the first week back at work in the new year. The continued success of Silent Witness, now in its 22nd year, is in part testament to the power of the double-night scheduling. The purpose of all these scheduling strategies is of course to maximise scale and reach. But it’s also more than that. We optimise through linear and on-demand to make it as easy as we can for viewers to complete a series. Viewers who watch a full series are more likely to recall and value it. It becomes a complete and memorable experience.

What can BARB tell us about audience behaviour? If you look at the profile of viewing to drama on BBC1 (Jan-Sept 2019), 6.9% of live viewing was by 16-34-year-olds, rising to 12.4% of VOSDAL viewing. The further away you get from the TX slot, the more 16-34s contribute to viewing: 13.8% for 1-7 days, 16% for 8-14 days and 17.1% for 15-28 days. When you add in device viewing, you multiply the profile of 16-34s to BBC1 content to 25.4%. By opening up availability through a combination of live, timeshifted and on-demand opportunities, we ensure that audiences can enjoy programmes on their own terms. The same content delivered or consumed in different ways attracts a different audience.

We can also examine patterns longitudinally over the last five years. In 2015, consolidation would add around a third of viewing to the overnight figure for a typical BBC1 drama; by 2019, that figure was closer to 60%, plus there’s an additional 8% of viewing taking place on devices. For the BBC, overnights are an indicator of performance rather than a true measure of audience value. It is only day one.

Some dramas have a significantly different audience when looking at device viewing. Peaky Blinders was the most-watched BBC1 drama series ranked by additional audience on devices on average in 2019. This is a known title where viewers feel the need to get up to speed before the next TX. Whereas The Capture, a brand-new drama, drew strength by word of mouth – with more viewing in the 8-28 day window than in the first seven days.

More and more, the way we value content is becoming more nuanced. We look to the continued value of content over time, on all platforms.

Killing Eve: optimising audiences across platforms

Killing Eve is a great crime drama series that really lent itself to experimentation in scheduling. We knew that audiences reacted to it in a very emotive way. They described it as thrilling and gripping – both great virtues of crime drama. But they also felt it was weird, quirky and shocking. Knowing that audiences spoke about it in such passionate terms meant that it was going to drive word of mouth viewing. We felt confident in making all episodes available on day one, allowing the audience to consume it at their own pace. And most importantly, it was a crime drama that did not hinge on who did it. The title itself was a great big spoiler! The entire series was about the process of Killing Eve.

By making the full series available on iPlayer and using the BBC1 transmission as grade A marketing, we were able to maximise viewing. That meant we got some spectacular viewing figures. Ahead of episode eight airing on BBC1, roughly 50% of viewing had already taken place. In other words, before it had even been transmitted, we banked an audience of four million. In fact, more viewers watched the finale before it was broadcast, than watched live and in the seven days following. But it’s this unique combination of linear and on-demand that really drove viewing.

For younger audiences (16-34s), the figures were even more compelling. Younger audiences are far more likely to consume a series ahead of TX, or post TX. They are both fashionably late, and unfashionably early. And once they get into a series, they are voracious. By episode eight, over 80% of the younger audience’s viewing had already taken place. Of course, I’m comparing viewing here to seven days after TX, or even 28 days. With our own iPlayer data, we can see continued viewing six months later, a year later and even longer. We saw the consumption of series two prompting revisits and fresh visits to series one. The content continues to give value.

For the BBC, by helping audiences find and complete a series, we create greater value. We continue to experiment in ways to help viewers find and enjoy the content they love.

Rachel Shaw, Head of Content Portfolio, BBC