As people are obliged to stay at home, television viewing in the United Kingdom has predictably risen with availability to view, almost reaching the levels of Christmas Day. More people are watching television news bulletins and almost half the country watched the prime minister announce a national lockdown. The BBC is rising to the challenge to inform, educate and entertain during the coronavirus quarantine.
An audience of over 28 million watched the prime minister address the nation on 23 March, with four out of five people watching television at the time viewing on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, or Sky News.
Daily television viewing across all individuals that week was up by 32% on the same week the previous year, at 3 hours 28 minutes, an increase of an hour a day. It was up by a similar percentage among those aged 16-34, to 1 hour 35 minutes a day.
There was an 47% increase in shared viewing of television at the time of broadcast in households, at 1 hour 35 minutes a day. There was also an 18% increase in solo viewing, at a similar duration.
Those figures capture live and same day viewing on a television set. Consolidated 7-day figures for the previous week, including viewing on devices, were also higher, reversing a general trend of declining audiences.
Consolidated viewing for the week commencing 16 March averaged at 3 hours and 30 minutes, up 28 minutes on the same week the previous year.
On Sunday 22 March, total peak-time viewing averaged 20.3 million, which was only half a million less than the number watching on Christmas Day.
While 9.50 million people watched Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway on ITV on Saturday 21 March, the BBC News at Six took five of the top 10 ratings that week, with an average audience of 7.80 million, ranging from 7.25 million to 8.71 million, the highest audience for a national news bulletin since 2012, and an average share of over 40% of the viewing audience.
The BBC had 30 of the top 50 rating programmes, with ITV taking the other 20. Of the BBC programmes, 16 were news bulletins or news specials.
Average daily reach of the BBC News channel rose to over 6 million, compared to around 3 million in previous weeks. The daily reach of Sky News also rose to around 4.5 million, from around 2 million.
BARB data also shows an increase in unidentified viewing, which includes viewing of subscription video services, discs, games, and catch-up viewing more than 28 days after broadcast. Already tracking higher than the previous year, that showed an increase of 19 minutes a day to 1 hour and 11 minutes a day, although still below that of BARB reported television channels.
Television provides a vital source of news as well as a sense of connection and companionship at a time of social isolation. The BBC is planning special religious programming over the Easter period, will be repeating memorable moments from sport, and will launch its biggest ever push on education, providing core curriculum coverage over the summer term.