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Joe Lewis 

TV or not TV?

TV or not TV?

BARB has enhanced the way in which it understands how TV is consumed. Here, the body's deputy research director Joe Lewis shares new findings about what his team is learning.

For decades, the TV screen has dominated our living rooms. Yet for the first time since television became the predominant mass-market medium, there is growing speculation that all is not what it used to be and that the TV screens we have grown to love are increasingly being used to do things other than watching our favourite television programmes.

BARB can now unveil new information that shines a light on the extent to which this is true.

But first, some history.

1979 was a memorable year, not least because the world's greatest football team went on to win their first European Cup. But it was also the year when The Buggles unleashed Video Killed The Radio Star, a moment that ushered in what was known as the MTV generation.

Leaving the exploits of Nottingham Forest aside (if we must), the growing popularity of music television, certainly on cable networks in the US, and latterly in the 90s onwards on pay TV operators in the UK, had many wondering about the preference of radio within the media choices of individuals for the future.

As is more often the case, those claiming the demise of traditional media have been subsequently proven wrong, with music television reinforcing the music industry and in turn music radio.

This synergy of media can be further seen with the introduction of radio services on digital television sets and platform providers. Alongside all your favourite TV channels, you are able to listen to your favourite radio stations. In December 2015, BARB introduced the ability within our data to look at this radio activity and how this relates to other usage of the television set.

chart 1

The chart above outlines the average number of minutes per day that individuals spend listening to the radio via the TV set. This averages at around 1% additional TV usage on top of seven day television viewing across the same period. Interestingly, Christmas Day saw a peak in radio usage in the period with nearly six minutes listening per person on that day.

chart 2

If we map this listening across the day itself then we can clearly see radio on the television set playing an important part of the Christmas Day experience with over 600k individuals listening to Christmas radio in the late morning as they opened their presents.

Broadcast television, although averaging over 10 million viewers at the same time, didn't see its peak until late in the evening with over 30 million viewers to Christmas day programming, so it's clear to see both media working together to enhance those different need states at different times of the day, and interestingly from the same device.

Of course, radio listening is only one of many different purposes you can use your television set in addition to broadcast television, and the increasing desire for families to purchase larger TV screens is testament to power of the big screen in the living room.

This is not something new of course, additional devices have been plugged into television sets for many years. My childhood was misspent plugging in a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, annoying my family with countless hours playing space trading game 'Elite'. Today, children and adults alike have multiple devices to use with the television set, be it the latest in games console, satellite or cable set-top-box, or any number of new connected devices.

From December, it has also been possible within BARB data to identify just what device is providing the content to the television set, be it broadcast television within the last 28 days or other non-broadcast TV activity like games console playing or indeed listening to the radio.

chart 3

Source: BARB 15th - 28th December (*currently excludes 8-28 day Playback - will be included in analysis in early February).

From the daily data it is now possible to understand how we as viewers get the content we watch to our screen. The above table outlines how of all television screen use in the UK, the Sky set-top-box is our most favoured device providing the most content to the screen with over 33% of all television screen use coming from the Sky box with the TV set itself (incorporating both Freeview and Freesat integrated tuners and online apps) not far behind with 29%.

The subsequent chart outlines by device, what proportion of the content is to seven-day television, how much is to radio and how much is to non-UK broadcast content, archive services such as box sets, or +28 day playback.

Interestingly, in addition to its primary use for playing games, nearly 10% of all games console usage is to television content suggesting its important role in providing catchup services from online apps.

Likewise, although the Sky platform has a plethora of archive box sets and film rental services, viewing from this platform is predominantly dominated by seven-day broadcast television with only 2% of use to content from non-broadcast services.

These two developments show just how BARB is continuing to enhance the way in which we understand how television is consumed and the way in which we use the TV set in general. Expect these developments to continue in 2016.


Joe Lewis is deputy research director at BARB

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