Television has been providing a source of comfort and community at a time of unprecedented isolation, bringing households and the nation together. Television viewing in the United Kingdom has risen by a quarter since the lockdown began and shared viewing is up by 37%. Viewing of television news has increased by 124% and bulletins are among the most watched programmes. Yet television viewing overall was only up by 18% year on year, just above the level it was five years ago.
Thinkbox, the commercial television marketing body, has commissioned research into how a dozen people have been responding to the change in their routines. Granted that is not a large sample but it provides a qualitative insight into how people are watching television at this time.
It found that television unites households, enables new routines and provides a valued source of comfort during these times of crisis.
Television news is a highly valued and trusted source of information, although it is inevitably contributing to a heightened state of anxiety. To avoid the news blues, some viewers may be limiting their exposure to particular bulletins and announcements.
The week after Easter, television viewing remained higher than last year but not by as much as one might expect, according to BARB data for the week commencing 13 April.
Television viewing across among ABC1 Adults was up by 19% on the previous year. Across all individuals it was up by 18%, compared to the same week the previous year. Among those aged 16-34 it was up by just 11%.
The most viewed programme of the previous week was Britain’s Got Talent, with a total audience of 10.83 million. Of those, 6.85 million were watching at the time of transmission. That was 46% of those viewing television at the time, which implies that about 8 million were watching another channel. Interestingly, that means over 45 million were watching or doing something else. That is around three quarters of the country, which is encouraging in many ways, unless you work in television.
Coronation Street, the only street in Britain not to be socially isolating, despite sounding like the corona nation, had audiences of 7.34 to 7.78 million viewers. Otherwise, it does not seem that viewers are turning to serial dramas to escape their isolation. Emmerdale had audiences of 6.16 to 6.39 million. EastEnders was not even in the top 20 programmes, with 5.65 to 5.70 million viewers, nothing like the numbers it once had.
The BBC News at Six had three of the top ten spots, and five of the top twenty, with an average audience of 6.59 million, down by half a million on the previous week. It had a share of between 35% and 44% of the live audience, which was among the highest of all programmes.
20 of the top 50 programmes by total audience were news bulletins, with all but three of them on BBC1.
Viewing of television news has risen across all age groups. News viewing has increased most among those aged 25-34, up by 133% over a three-week period compared to earlier in the year. Those aged over 65 still watch the most news. They have been watching 44% more news compared to earlier in the year.
As a result, the age profile of television news audiences has shifted, although 44% of those viewing news on BBC1 were still aged over 65. The news on ITV had a slightly younger audience profile, with 39% aged over 65, while Sky News attracted only 21% of those aged over 65. Sky News has seen a 230% increase in viewing.
Sky reported that it has seen the highest ever television viewing in general among its customers, up by almost a third, with those aged 16-34 watching 45% more.
Although viewers are watching more television than they have been of late, it has generally only returned to the levels of five years previously. Given that many people have been confined to their homes it is perhaps surprising that they are not watching much more.