You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that audiences will rise during the coronavirus crisis, but the figures are already quite striking. The UK’s largest commercial broadcaster, ITV, reported a 39% rise in viewers for its flagship live Saturday night family show (Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway) versus the series average. Saturday’s show (March 21), which was broadcast without a studio audience, also witnessed a 45% increase in 16-34 year-old viewing compared to the series average.
When this show broadcast last weekend, the UK public had been firmly advised to cease social contact, and pubs and bars had been ordered to close the previous night. The figures preceded the tightened restrictions which then commanded everyone to stay at home except for essential trips like food shopping.
ITV’s lunchtime news has seen ratings double year-on-year during the virus crisis, while there have been 20% rises for the early evening and night-time news bulletins.
GroupM, the media buying agency group, has reported* that in Italy, TV ratings are up 18% for the population as a whole and by 35% among 4-14 year-olds compared to last year. Federica Setti, Chief Researcher Officer at GroupM, says national news viewing is up 29% and regional news audiences are up 42%. Online news consumption saw triple-digit growth during the week March 2-8. The corriere.it website attracted 22 million users that week, representing a 129% growth on 2019.
Meanwhile, the pan-Nordic pay and free TV broadcasting group NENT reports that total streamed minutes on its Viaplay digital service (excluding sports coverage) was up 44% in the week to March 17 when compared to the same week a year ago. On the weekend of March 14/15 transactional VOD consumption was up 64% and that is compared to the previous weekend, with kids’ movies showing the biggest jump.
NENT has rights to a swathe of tier-one sports including the Premier League and F1 so is being hit hard by the loss of these crown jewels on the schedules. But sports package subscribers watched 34% more minutes and started 25% more streams of non-sports content on the weekend of March 14/15 compared to the previous weekend.
While the audience figures, and especially the dramatic rise in young viewers, are good news for television, some popular shows are going to be restricted. ITV has suspended production of its soaps Coronation Street and Emmerdale. The broadcaster has enough episodes of each show filmed and in post-production to last until early summer, having cut the number of episodes shown each week.
Like other broadcasters, the company is working out ways to keep the appeal of live shows that rely on studio guests, such as remote contributions, even via Skype or Facetime.
As we reported elsewhere, ITV has already flagged a likely 10% drop in ad revenue next month. France’s leading commercial broadcaster, TF1, also reports lost revenue caused by the immediate hit on advertising. TF1 forecasts “an initial significant impact in advertising revenue performance in March, with an even greater impact in April.”
TF1 says it has no visibility on ad revenue impacts beyond April at this stage. Advertisers from the tourism, culture and transport sectors have postponed or cancelled a large number of advertising spots at TF1.
In France, the hit on immediate advertising revenues is also accompanied by larger audiences and reduced production. Without giving specifics, TF1 reports increased consumption of content in all forms across all devices and expects viewing numbers to keep growing. The company has suspended filming and has spoken about reviewing its entire TV schedules on a daily basis “in order to cushion the loss of revenue with more efficient programming”.
Once again, and sooner than anyone expected, the importance of commercial broadcaster diversification is going to be tested. ITV, for instance, is a major global content producer and is also a key stakeholder in the multi-broadcaster SVOD service, BritBox. Low commitment streaming VOD services are expected to be big early winners during the lockdowns.
ITV has also pointed out that its ITV3 channel is home to popular dramas that will appeal to over-70s who are stuck at home and who may well lack connected TVs and streaming services. The likelihood is that all boats (linear, AVOD and SVOD) are going to rise, in terms of viewership, in this unprecedented and unwanted stay-at-home entertainment fest.
[* GroupM data was translated from Italian to English via Google Translate]