14/05/2020   Rahul Patel
TV viewing in the UK: Lockdown puts a declining trend in reverse

The UK government responded to the COVID-19 crisis by introducing a nationwide lockdown on March 23rd. With more ways than ever to keep yourself entertained at home, how has the lockdown affected linear TV viewing in the UK? 

Stay-at-home measures have reversed the decade-long trend of declining broadcast television viewership. Compared to a year earlier, the average time spent watching TV was up 6% per person in March and 22% in April. The average viewer watched television for 25 hours per week in April – a level not seen in April since 2016.

The concern surrounding the virus began affecting news viewership long before the lockdown was introduced. Total viewers of the UK’s two most popular news-focused channels (BBC News and Sky News) was 20% higher in February compared to a year earlier. The appetite for news coverage has been significant. In April 2019, no news programme cracked the top 15 most watched programmes in any given week; this year, news programmes (mainly on the BBC 1) occupy an average of 3.6 of the top 15 spots each week.

Among the 10 most popular general entertainment channels this time last year, total viewing time per person was up 22% in April compared to a year earlier. Of these 10 channels, Dave saw the highest rise of 48% as more people turn to the channel’s light-hearted comedy content for comfort. More4 and BBC 1 follow with increases of 38% each. However, sustaining these trends may be difficult when new programming dries up as a result of production shutdowns. ITV announced that this year’s summer edition of Love Island has been cancelled, and Emmerdale and Coronation Street (two of ITV’s most watched shows) will run out of filmed episodes in May and June, respectively. The effects on ITV’s advertising revenue, therefore, are expected to be considerable.

However, growth is not universal. Postponements and cancellations within the sports industry have already severely impacted sports channels. Among the 10 most popular sports channels this time last year, viewing time per person shrunk by 35% in March and 88% in April compared to the same months in 2019. This has had revenue implications for pay-TV operators, with Sky and BT allowing customers to pause or refund their premium sports subscriptions until live sports resume.

 The most watched programme in the last few weeks was the Prime Minister’s statement on March 23rd that introduced lockdown measures. The address was watched by over 27 million people, beating the 2012 London Olympics opening and closing ceremonies (24 million viewers each). Similar results are expected for the Prime Minister’s recent address on May 10th that detailed the plan for relaxing the lockdown.

The information presented in this article is based on data available on the Broadcast Audience Research Board website.


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