Television viewing reached a new all-time high in 2010 in the UK according to Thinkbox' analysis of the latest BARB data. Thinkbox is the UK's television marketing body. BARB is the UK Broadcasters' Audience Research Board. The average TV viewer watched four hours and two minutes of linear television per day in 2010. This includes live viewing and time-shifted viewing 'as live' i.e. recordings played back at normal speed within seven days of original broadcast. This is a massive increase of 18 minutes per day compared to 2009.
Several factors contributed to generate that increase: some long-term underlying factors as well as some year-specific ones.
2010-specific factors played an important role in the surge. The FIFA World Cup in the summer of 2010 and the severe weather in November and December both drove viewing. December 2010 was actually one of strongest months ever, with 32 hours and 49 minutes per week, compared with approximately 28 hours in 2009 and 2008. Finally, the new TV measurement system put in place since January 2010 and managed by Kantar Media, is providing more accurate data on secondary TV sets viewing.
But more fundamental underlying growth factors also played a role. First of all, viewing is still boosted by the continuing success of entertainment and reality TV shows like 'The X Factor' on ITV1 (as emphasized in our report 'Who said linear TV was dead' by Tim Westcott published Feb 2, 2011). With the transition to digital multichannel almost completed at present, the increasing choice provided to users (new digital channels and '+1' channels) further continues to drive overall viewing.
Finally, the share of live viewing out of total viewing remains high and DVRs are not affecting the overall exposure to linear television. In 2010, the average UK viewer dedicated 7.5% of his/her total viewing time to time-shift viewing, which corresponds to 14 to 15% per cent among those equipped with a DVR (55% at end-2010 according to IHS Screen Digest). The proportion of time-shifted viewing has not significantly changed over the last three years since it started to be measured because new DVR owners start with a relatively low usage and keep diluting the heavier usage level of more mature users. So far the 'uplift' factor associated with DVRs (households equipped with DVR watch approx. 15% more TV than before), still seems to slightly offset the 'ad-skipping' factor, therefore driving overall linear viewing (for a detailed analysis of the impact of DVRs please refer to our report 'The End of the 30-second Spot is Postponed' published 24 February 2010).
From that peak, we believe that linear TV viewing will plateau or slightly decline in 2011. First of all, the time-specific factors will not apply again, by definition. There are no major TV events in 2011 except the rugby world cup in New Zealand and the royal wedding in April. Underlying factors are also likely to fade away in 2011 and beyond. Digital switchover is virtually completed by now and the net effect of DVR penetration will gradually become less incremental. DVR owners typically start using the device more intensely after a few years. We therefore predict that a combination of penetration increase and maturation in the owner base will lead to much higher levels of time-shifting and ad-skipping in the future. Nevertheless the latest data shows that broadcast television is still fundamentally a healthy advertising medium, relatively unaffected by technological developments.
The UK record comes after similar records have been achieved in 2010 in France with 212 minutes, up seven minutes (see our analyst commentary of January 7), and in Germany: 223 minutes, up twelve minutes.
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