Is viewing to main channels suffering because of choice or are new digital channels cannibalising themselves, asks Julian Clover?
It should come as no surprise that all five of Britain’s main channels suffered a year-on-year audience drop in 2010. In a sort of a reverse digital dividend the big channels have everything to lose by analogue switch off.
BBC Two was hardest hit with its audience share falling by almost 8% to 6.9%. BBC One edged ahead of ITV1 in primetime, but direct comparisons can be tricky, because all of the broadcasters use a different definition of what primetime actually is.
We may be down to the digital laggards, but even those who prefer ‘BBC Normal’ must surely occasionally wander off piste towards the lower reaches of the EPG. Digital brings more choice and it is entirely reasonable that people exercise it in the end.
Of course tuning into a channel used to be straight forward, but it is now possible to watch ITV1 content on ITV1 itself, the new timeshifted ITV +1, ITV1 HD (which may or may not feature your regional programmes), the ITV Player and maybe the occasional show you have put on your PVR.
So what effect are the HD channels having on overall viewing? In December ITV1 HD had a 0.7% share of viewing. BBC HD had a 0.1% share, this is down from the 0.3% the channel previously enjoyed, but there’s now also a BBC One HD and although this channel doesn’t report separate figures we can safely assume that’s where the audience has gone.
The other HD channels that report separately don’t actually move the needle, but an average multichannel, National Geographic, History, Cartoon Network, would have a 0.1% share, based on December’s Barb figures.
Among the more popular channels Sky 1 has 0.8%, Sky 3, which also has Freeview distribution 0.7%, Sky News 0.7, BBC News 1.3, Sky Sports 1.6, Dave 0.9, and E4 1.1.
The interesting figures will come into February, when following the recent closure of Bravo, and the launch of Sky Atlantic new viewing patterns will take hold.
But a mature market doesn’t necessarily mean that your audience will fall. Although it lost share year-on-year – and no more than its main competitors – TV4 added audience in the last quarter of 2010. The main Swedish commercial channel happily boasts that its audience is greater than that of TV3, Kanal 5 and TV6 combined.
A revamped SVT1 is beginning to eat into the audience of TV3 and Kanal 5, which TV4 has so far been able to overcome. The public broadcaster’s emphasis on entertainment has helped stem the losses to the smaller commercial channels that have been given a greater profile following analogue switch-off.
BBC Three and BBC Four have shares of 1.6 and 0.6% respectively, better than their commercial counterparts, which would suggest that as long as they remain distinctive – BBC Four is surely the new BBC Two – then the suggestion they might be closed is far fetched. Stranger things have happened of course, and the BBC has closed channels before. BBC Alba, the Scottish Gaelic channel, must surely be a candidate however worthy.