What People Watch

What People Watch: Television viewing by genre

28 April 2020

Welcome to What People Watch, a new series exploring different aspects of how UK audiences are watching television now. Having examined the growth of news in last week’s edition, this week we are looking at shifts in viewing to other genres as a result of the pandemic lockdown.

TV set viewing to BARB-reported channels

The fourth week of stay-at-home restrictions saw headline figures for television viewing remain stable at a high level once again. For the week ending April 19th 2020 (calendar week 16), consolidated 7-day TV set viewing to BARB-reported channels was 215 minutes a day on average. After trending downwards slightly in the weeks following the peak of week 13, this level represented a slight increase (+1 minute) on the previous week.

The level of unidentified viewing (all types of TV set use that aren’t viewing to a BARB-reported channel or service) was also stable in week 16, at 94 minutes a day.

The preliminary figures for week 17 (the week ending April 26th) are also included on the chart, based on live and same-day TV set viewing only (dashed line). Both types of viewing remain higher than the same period last year, but for the first time since lockdown, there is a suggestion that levels have fallen slightly. Based on live and same-day TV set data, viewing to BARB-reported channels in week 17 is tracking about nine minutes a day lower than in week 16, while unidentified viewing has shown a greater decline, down 12 minutes a day in week 17.

As always, timeshifted viewing will increase the BARB-reported channels figure, and the consolidated figure will be included in the next edition of What People Watch.

Television viewing by genre

Following our look at the growth in news viewing, we can consider how viewing to other genres of programming has changed during the pandemic lockdown.

In the chart above, the left-hand pair of bars show the percentage of schedule time accounted for by each genre for weeks 1-12 2020 and for weeks 13-16 during the lockdown period. The right-hand pair show the percentage of viewing time that the genres contributed in each period. This chart includes viewing to all BARB-reported channels.

There has been little change in the schedule time proportions between the two periods, with all genres within one percentage point of the previous average during the lockdown weeks so far. However, there have been some significant shifts in viewing time contributed by different genres.

As previously analysed, the news genre has expanded. Although news programming has only grown by 0.2 points to 3.6% of schedule time, news viewing time has jumped from 12.2% to 19.5%. In a similar vein, current affairs programming has grown, despite a slight fall in schedule minutes.

The impact of global restrictions on live events can be seen in the effect on the sports genre. Schedule time for sports has remained fairly stable, as the bulk of live coverage on the dedicated sports channels has been replaced by magazine or archive content. But sports viewing has been much lower during lockdown, falling from 7.9% to 1.1% of viewing time. If this chart looked at viewing on the main terrestrial channels only, it would show that sports schedule time had also declined in line with viewing. This is because sports coverage on the terrestrial channels is more focussed on live events, and so is more likely to have been replaced by programming from other genres.

Drama has seen a drop in viewing time, as well as a slight fall in schedule minutes. One factor in this change is that soaps make up a key part of the genre, and with production suspended, many channels have reduced the number of remaining soap episodes broadcast each week. As these premieres are in primetime slots and are some of the most-watched programmes across all channels in any given week, this is a contributing factor to lower viewing to the drama genre overall.

Lastly, films have seen an increase in viewing, up 1.6 percentage points to 10.9%, versus only a slight increase in schedule minutes. This is likely driven by the terrestrial channels adding extra film slots in to their schedules; across BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky 1, 43 films aired per week on average in weeks 13-16, versus 35 a week in weeks 1-12.

What People Watch will return with more insights into UK viewing behaviour.

Jeremy Martin, Insights Manager, BARB

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