Future of TV Media Thinkbox

Comedy, nostaglia and family viewing up as lockdown changes TV habits


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

April 24, 2020 | 5 min read

Thinkbox has compared historic viewing figures to better understand how TV consumption habits are changing in lockdown. Comedy and nostalgia viewing is significantly up, as is family-viewing.

Thinkbox documents changing TV habits: Comedy, nostaglia and family-viewing up

Thinkbox documents changing TV habits: Comedy, nostaglia and family-viewing up

The marketing body for commercial TV compared year-on-year average viewing figures on BARB against the early weeks of lockdown to pick out consumption trends. Atop of this it commissioned video diaries from 12 households to offer a narrow but in-depth human story behind how TV consumption is changing.

Viewing of comedy shows increased by 40% in the first three weeks of lockdown, compared to figures from one year earlier. People are leaning into content that will make them laugh during this time, and one of the big winners is Channel 4's Friday Night Dinner.

Perhaps of the greatest interest to advertisers is the fact that shared TV viewing is up 37% year-on-year as a result of the lockdown. Per household, advertisers appear to be reaching more people. Shared viewing of Channel 4’s Gogglebox was up 41% and In For a Penny on ITV up 47%. Sky Cinema, which hosts family friendly films, was up 48%. The other side of the social distancing coin is that there was also a 15% increase in people watching alone.

There were some anecdotal stories about new forms of consumption from the video diaries. One working-from-home couple set aside lunchtime together to eat and watch TV. A father watched cookery shows with his children (now home from school) before recreating the meals in the kitchen. As a result of this newfound togetherness, there is more of what ThinkBox calls “compromise viewing”. The study paints a fine example of this. One mother dragged her teen daughter into a Twilight franchise viewing session.

Furthermore, there’s been a surge in nostalgia viewing, with people diving back into their favourite shows or harkening back to less turbulent times. Since lockdown began, viewing of Only Fools and Horses on Gold is up 20% year-on-year and Last of the Summer Wine on Drama is up 30%.

The report said: “This presents new opportunities for parents and kids to watch classic TV shows together.” With live sports on hiatus and the production of new shows stymied by budget cuts and the lockdown, this trend may yet see some growth. You can watch the video diaries on general consumption here.

Separate diaries were also kept to track news consumption (here). Viewing of TV news content more than doubled (by 124%) in the first three weeks of lockdown. Sky News viewing has tripled year on year since lockdown began. Viewers noted that the greatest barrier to higher news consumption was the anxiety blanket Covid-19 coverage was in some cases causing.

“As lockdown progresses many are ‘windowing’ their news consumption, tuning it at certain times of the day, such as early morning or for government briefings, to reduce anxiety.”

Matt Hill, research and planning director of Thinkbox, said: “The effects of social distancing are profound. Our media habits are dramatically changing as a result of the new situations we find ourselves in and it is vital we understand what those changes mean for the TV and advertising industries. This ongoing study will do this. What is clear already is that TV has many roles to play. The huge breadth of broadcaster content – live and on demand – is coming to the fore, with people exploring all corners of the TV universe to keep them and their families entertained.”

Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos Mori, which conducted the research, added: “TV is again uniting Britain. New routines and habits are emerging, with TV bringing households together to seek comfort in shared experiences. It is also fascinating to see the value and trust audiences are placing in TV news, to fuel our desire to stay informed (even if we do need a little light relief afterwards). Our multiple waves of rapid turnaround digital immersions with households across the country will show us the impact of these changes in the short and long term, so the industry can quickly react with responsive strategies.”

This marks just the first wave of the research with more to come in the following weeks.

The figures should be heartening for broadcasers, but the likes of ITV and Channel 4 have already sounded warnings that increased viewership will not equate to increased ad revenues as advertisers slash budgets.

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