The Viewing Report

Pre-broadcast viewing

12 May 2020

Television informs popular culture in many ways and over the years has spawned new language to describe changing behaviour – from water-cooler moments to box-set bingeing. It may now be time for a phrase that captures people’s viewing of episodes ahead of the broadcast schedule.

Several broadcasters have been experimenting with making a whole series available on-demand after the first broadcast episode. This extends on-demand viewing from playing catch-up to getting ahead – making workplaces risky territory for plot-spoilers when the tea-break chat turns to television.

BARB’s ability to provide data about pre-broadcast viewing depends on the co-operation of the broadcasters; they supply audio assets to BARB so that the content can be recognised by the measurement system even before its linear broadcast. This is particularly important for assets that might never have a linear broadcast or have a linear broadcast much later – such as content on BBC Three. As BARB’s library of audio assets continues to grow (now over 7,000, which has doubled in a year), we will be able to build a richer base of insight about this type of viewing.

The first example is Sky One’s Manifest, where the entire series was made available on-demand after the first episode’s airing. Pre-broadcast viewing climbed across the lifetime of the series to peak at over 92% of viewing to the final, sixteenth episode. Almost a quarter of a million people really went for it – BARB data show 241,000 viewers watched episode 16 (and presumably episodes 2-15 as well) within the week after the series debut and before the linear broadcast of episode two.

With live viewing to any episode of Manifest never achieving more than the 10% of audience achieved in episode one, there’s finally some encouragement here for those commentators who long ago predicted the death of the television schedule. Only one live broadcast (episode 14) of the last ten episodes in the series achieved more than 5% of its viewing live via the TV set. And while almost two thirds of the audience to the first episode used Sky On Demand to catch up post-broadcast, over two-thirds of the audience to the second episode used it to watch pre-broadcast, a proportion that climbed thereafter. Given the option to view ahead, viewers go for it.

Our second example takes a look at episode six of BBC One’s Gold Digger. It’s not quite as revolutionary as Manifest – 30% of viewing was live and just about all of that was on the TV set – but pre-broadcast again took the lion’s share of viewing at 44%, and this was where devices played their biggest role, taking almost a quarter of the pre-broadcast total across PCs (12%), tablets (8%) and phones (3%). The remaining 26% of the audience viewed post-broadcast, again largely (94.5%) on the TV set. Perhaps these more traditional BBC One viewers were less inclined to view ahead of the schedule.

So, as people are presented with a mix of technologies for timeshifting their television viewing, some are keener than others to adopt new behaviours. BARB is getting ever better equipped to provide the evidence and insight that helps broadcasters cater for all kinds of viewing preferences.