Each week in the United Kingdom between 90 and 95 billion minutes of television are viewed on television sets and only 1.5 billion minutes are viewed on other devices. Despite the growth in online viewing, the television set remains the main screen for most people, according to an analysis of viewing across 2016. This also shows a considerable discrepancy between levels of online viewing measured in television terms compared to the number of reported requests for the same programmes.
The Viewing Report from BARB, the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, shows that on computers, tablets and phones the largest on-demand audience measured in 2016 was for the first episode of the BBC nature programme Planet Earth II with 524,000 average programme streams. This was followed by an episode of the cooking competition The Great British Bake Off with 481,000.
The most popular live programme was for coverage of a UEFA Euro 2016 football match between England against Wales on the BBC, which also had 524,000 average programme streams. The next most popular live programme was a Liverpool versus Manchester United match on Sky with 121,000.
The industry metric of average programme streams is calculated by taking the total time people spend viewing programmes on television players divided by the full length of the programmes. This is comparable to the way in which BARB calculates the average audience for television programmes.
The television audience for that episode of Planet Earth II was 12.26 million over 7 days, rising to 12.46 million over 28 days.
The England against Wales match was watched by 7.68 million on television, with a minimal gain from those watching within a month.
For these top programmes the online viewing added around 7% to the television audience but for many programmes the audience addition will be smaller than that.
The BARB numbers, using comparable methodologies to television ratings, are interesting in comparison to the figures for programme ‘requests’ provided by the BBC.
In its monthly performance figures, the BBC reported that the opening episode of Planet Earth II received 3.84 million requests, excluding Virgin Media and Sky platforms, making it the most popular programme of the year on the BBC iPlayer.
So those 3.84 million requests translated into 0.52 million streams averaged over the length of the programme, according to the BARB numbers.
Looking at the England versus Wales football match, the BBC reported 2.84 million requests through BBC iPlayer. BARB reported 0.53 million average programme streams for the match itself, with 0.23 million for the pre-match build-up and 0.22 million for the post-match coverage.
The BARB TV Player Report only includes Andriod and iOS apps and web players for the BBC and excludes live streaming and viewing through third-party apps such as Sky Go.
BBC data shows that computers, tablets and phones account for 53% of requests through BBC iPlayer, with television devices representing 45%.
The BARB numbers are also based on online viewing within the calendar week, whereas the BBC iPlayer stats are cumulative for the calendar month.
Even so, there is a considerable discrepancy between the figures from BARB and the number requests reported by the BBC.
The BBC is one of the founding shareholders in BARB, which produces the ‘gold standard’ viewing figures for the television industry, not least the ratings currency for commercial channels.
The BBC should also be well placed to measure the performance of its programmes online, and should know to the nearest second how much video it delivered for each request.
Yet when measured in television terms, it seems that the online audiences are relatively small.
For those programmes as measured by BARB, most online viewing is now on tablets, accounting for over 45% of aggregate viewing across all audited television player apps. Computers account for nearly 38%, while phones represent only 16% of such viewing.
The BARB report addresses the widespread notion that people are falling out of love with television sets.
There is no doubt that people are watching more time-shifted television, viewing catch-up services and using subscription services like Netflix and Amazon, all of which tend to depress BARB gold standard audience figures, which cover viewing of broadcast programmes both live and time-shifted within seven days. These figures were down 2% in 2016 compared to the previous year.
However, total television screen time, including time not spent watching programmes measured by BARB and including other video sources such as games consoles, has hardly changed.
Even among children, total television screen time was only down by 3.4% in 2016, and among 16-24 year year-olds it was down 1.5%. For those aged 25-34 it was actually up by 1.1%. Across these age groups, traditional television programming still accounts for around two-thirds of all television screen time.
An increasing proportion of viewing is time-shifted. Yet viewing within 7 days on average still only represents less than 14% of total television viewing, rising to over 20% among those aged 25-34 and approaching 30% for drama programmes.
Entertainment, drama and documentaries constitute over 46% of television viewing, although broadcast drama has been declining with the increasing popularity of video-on-demand options.
Entertainment programming remains the most popular television genre, accounting for over 17% of viewing.
Sport and movies, often seen as the mainstay of pay-television, each constitute only 9% of all viewing, just behind news at 10%.
The Great British Bakeoff, a homely cake baking show, was the most popular programme of the year, with the final attracting an audience of almost 16 million viewers.
The Viewing Report is published by BARB, which also produces The TV Player Report each week. The BBC publishes a monthly Performance Report for the BBC iPlayer.