In August of this year, a new BARB classification was introduced which has unleashed yet another battle between commercial terrestrial TV stations.

Advertisers can for the first time identify exactly what and when light viewers watch TV, and adapt their strategies accordingly.

Research into this new audience, light viewers, is partially funded by Channel 4 and is defined as: “The third of all adults who viewed least commercial TV in the preceeding four-week period”.

Initial data indicates that the profile of this audience tends to be male, young – under 35 – and, most importantly, upmarket. Their tendency to be light viewers is a result of their busy lifestyles and their high disposable incomes – and this is attractive for both advertisers and media planners.

Both ITV and Channel 4 are keen to prove their dominance in delivering this audience but the BBC leads the field. Almost 60 per cent of light viewing hours are spent watching non-commercial channels. This contrasts strongly with all adult viewing, where ITV dominates.

On average, light viewers only spend 10.5 hours a week in front of their TV – with just over four hours for the commercial stations.

Of all commercial TV channels, Channel 4 delivers the highest proportion of light viewers as a percentage of its total audience – 14 per cent. ITV, however , is not far behind with 11 per cent of its total audience – which for a mass and generally downmarket channel is a surprising result. ITV’s strength is in the size of audience delivered – across two months, ITV reached more than double the number of light viewers of Channel 4.

Satellite, not surprisingly, does not deliver light viewers as efficiently as the terrestrial channels – these people have just paid extra to watch even more TV. As its penetration continues to grow – currently 24 per cent of homes – this may change. Most popular channels include MTV, VH-1, Eurosport and Sky Sports, where about 15 per cent of their total audience fall into the light viewers category. All are specialist channels attracting niche audiences and are popular with young males.

The real key to reaching light viewers lies in analysing when and what they watch. Their viewing of ITV indicates a concentration into weekend prime time – particularly Sundays – from 8pm onwards. On weekdays, peak viewing coincides with News at Ten. Opportunities also exist outside prime time – for example Saturday lunchtimes and religious programming on Sunday mornings may deliver small audiences, but ones with a substantial proportion of light viewers.

Saturday evenings also show a peak between 9pm and 12pm – despite the fact that most young males tend to dedicate this evening to their social lives. With only two months of data available, it remains to be seen whether this trend will continue, or whether it is purely the appeal of ITV’s film premieres.

Surprisingly on Channel 4, it is not documentaries that prove strongest. The Friday night comedy strand and weekend dramas deliver the highest proportion of light viewers. Cutting Edge and Equinox prove to be the pick of the documentaries.

With pressure on their leisure time, light viewers are selective in what they watch. Unique one-off programming proves most effective. Across ITV and Channel 4, at least half the top ten rating programmes for light viewers are unique.

But the main question for advertisers is whether the commercial stations can threaten the BBC’s overall dominance.

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