Two years ago, there was quite a song and dance about press stories speculating upon the decline of TV viewing. Was the British public turning away from the box in the corner?
There was much contention over whether viewing had or hadn’t gone down. The answer in the end was: “Well, it depends”. That’s media research for you.
Isn’t BARB meant to measure every second of viewing? Well, it does, but if you throw into the mix the arrival of satellite, the switch from measuring live to consolidated viewing, and the fact that 1992 produced some unusually high figures (which no-one has ever really explained) any valid comparison suddenly becomes very difficult.
What can be said, is that in the last three years (1993 to 1995) total viewing has been relatively flat. Average hours viewed by all individuals for the three years is 3.69, 3.60 and 3.59 respectively. So the love affair between us Brits and the telly is certainly not at the divorce court. That is certainly a piece of good news for all advertisers.
The second part of the debate centres on where the viewing is directed. In the middle of the current headlines about all-time record share prices for TV companies, it is important to look at the long-term trends in the industry.
In 1995, satellite/cable share grew – no surprise there. The average share of total viewing went from 6.8 per cent to 8.5 per cent. Despite this rise, the share that all commercial stations took as a percentage of all viewing in fact went down over the year from 57.1 per cent to 56.6 per cent.
This is not so good, as some satellite/cable options are not available to advertisers, and the BBC does not seem to be suffering.
In fact, BBC 1 only lost out marginally, down from 32.4 per cent to 32.2 per cent, and BBC2 actually went up year-on-year from 10.6 per cent to 11.2 per cent.
Indeed, until Channel 4 caught a bit of a cold in the last quarter of 1995, the two smaller, but more targeted channels seemed to be making the best of our current viewing climate. As it is, Channel 4 was fractionally up over the year.
ITV has clearly suffered the most in total viewing share, down from 39.4 per cent to 37.2 per cent. It has, on an individual week basis, wiped the floor with the other channels but consistency is now harder to find than before. ITV’s fourth quarter of 1995 was not helped by the Christmas period, which in two weeks, knocked one per cent off its share for the quarter.