Online viewing is becoming a vital part of broadcasters’ audiences, writes Julian Clover.
You must admit that broadcasters are facing something of a dilemma when it comes to on demand services. On the one hand they want to demonstrate to the world how up to date they are by being able to do the what you want to watch, when you want it routine, while at the same time trying to demonstrate that their existing services aren’t losing audiences to the very services they are so anxious to promote. To be more precise they want to make sure that if there is any audience lost from their linear services, then they will be able to pick up the rest, either over-the-top or through their friendly local cablenet.
Virgin Media demonstrated again this week just how much the public is taking to on demand. Boasting what is possibly the highest percentage take-up in Europe, the operator says 52% of its subscribers now regularly use the service, increasing stickiness and sometimes revenues.
We’ve previously written in this column about how the audience research organisation Barb is including on demand data when calculating viewer numbers. But the process, at least as far as cable is concerned, has only just begun. So what accounts for broadcast viewing in 2008 climbing by one hour a week year on year? Particularly when the BBC iPlayer, and it is largely the iPlayer, can offer so many goodies over the top.
The growth in commercial TV viewing to 63% of the total is straightforward; new channels are largely commercial, even if their audiences are sometimes so small that the advertising agencies have no need to even look up their phone number before it is disconnected.
Thinkbox, the marketing organisation owned by commercial broadcasters Channel 4, Five, GMTV, ITV, Sky Media, Turner Media Innovations and Viacom Brand Solutions, puts the growth of linear down to a number of factors. While we can for once dismiss the economic downturn, which arguably did not really get into gear until the final months of the year, it says that online TV is keeping people in the broadcast schedule. It quotes its own research that 78% of online TV viewing is as catch-up from broadcast shows that have been missed.
There is increasing evidence that programmes are not really being missed, because online has become the primary destination for the younger audience in particular. One sixth of the audience to Skins, the Channel 4 school drama, watches the programme online. The first episode of the new series, broadcast by E4 on January 22, achieved an audience of 1.35 million for its linear broadcast and a further 283,000 online. More than half of the programme’s audience is under the age of 34.
Keeping audiences in the loop is increasingly important for broadcasters that need to translate online audiences onto the not so small screen.