Foxtel Media Partnerships Director, Dan Serhan (pictured) has put down her thoughts on how audiences across Australia have opened up to new content amid the coronavirus crisis…
With a third of the world’s population on lockdown, it seems like every Microsoft Teams or ZOOM meeting is either opening or closing with the question: “any good new TV recommendations?”
At a time when know that more TV and video content than ever before is being consumed, we are seeing some interesting shifts in audience behaviour. One trend that is becoming clear is that, due to forced confinement and more free time, consumers are more willing to sample outside of their usual comfort zone. With no live sport for example, what do the sport aficionados turn to? Anecdotal evidence from my own colleagues at Foxtel Media suggests cooking shows may be the new “guilty” indulgence for sports fans. Another potential trend that audiences are devoting more time to co-family viewing.What is certain is that the impact of lockdown has the potential to change audience tastes long-term, as well as associated behaviours around how content is consumed.
A good place to start is the viewing numbers- where we are seeing bigger audiences for content across the board. In the past six weeks, Foxtel viewers spent on average 2:30 hours per day watching Linear TV across the network, with Seven and Nine viewers clocking in around 1:35 hours. And, as well as consuming traditional TV, video on-demand services are also booming as viewers both live-stream and binge-watch entire series. Live consumption across FOXTEL NOW has seen a 21.1% year-on-year growth for total minutes watched. Broadcast video-on-demand has seen incredible growth with 4.6 bil total minutes viewed, which is up 46.7% compared to the same time last year.
Global drama commissioning trends
Audiences are flocking to drama, with in Peak and Off-Peak viewing up 61.6% and 114.5% respectively. This is a global trend. When it comes to commissioning, analysis of BBC 2019-2020 drama commissioning trends by Ampere shows that the most universal themes for drama co-productions are crime thrillers, followed by historical and period dramas.
Authorship has become increasingly important with certain writers in hot demand, such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge (writer and star of tragicomedy Fleabag) who has signed a US$20 mil deal with Amazon. Julian Fellows continues to be in demand, with his latest series Belgravia on BBC First following on from the global success of Downton Abbey. One of my own personal favourites, BBC First’s must-see Patrick Melrose based on theEdward St. Aubyn’s novels and adapted by acclaimed screenwriter and author David Nicholls, underlines the authorship trend. Audiences still love to be transported to a different human experience, a life they have never lived that they can experience through the eyes of characters.
Real Life Reality TV
On the other side of the spectrum, throughout Q1 2020 another clear broadcasting trend globally is that “Real Life Reality is King”.
Discovery Channel, the global leader in real-life entertainment, has seen audience growth rise significantly throughout international markets since the COVID-19 outbreak as we tune in to real-life content as an escape.
Discovery’s Australian portfolio, including Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Discovery Turbo, Investigation Discovery and TLC, has seen increased viewership by 4% in 2020 year-on-year. During March alone, audiences were up 12%. Discovery Turbo, a channel dedicated to all things motoring and with strong male audiences, had its best month since November 2015. The fact there is no live sport is no doubt a catalyst for this but what does this channel sampling do to consideration long term, this we are yet to find out. TLC, a channel focused towards reality series involving lifestyles, unique families, and personal transformations which has a stronger female audience following, also had its strongest viewership during this period, up 29% compared to March 2019.
As we have had to close our doors and live a more confined life we have been leaning in to experience and learn more about how ‘other’ people are living their ‘real’ lives.
All things Earth
Another shift has been towards emotional connection between audiences and the natural world. Sir David Attenborough’s landmark through awe-inspiring series Planet Earth and Blue Planet continue to dominate natural history programming globally for BBBC Earth/Natural History.
These series have incredible longevity. In its first week BBC Earth screened four of Sir David’s biggest titles: Blue Planet II, Planet Earth II, Frozen Planet and The Hunt – delivering a primetime share up 67% on the previous three months (BBC Knowledge).
BBC Earth saw its highest audience month for 2020 so far during April, with the channel reaching over 1.10 mil viewers. There’s no doubt that the week of programming dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in Earth Week has contributed to this audience boost.
Not only are these landmark properties cinematic in quality and informative, these shows resonate with viewers looking for collective family viewing opportunities which are particularly suitable with all family members home during the shutdowns. Viewing is up 46% on BBC Earth since COVID-19, as viewers seek to maintain a window on the wider world under lockdown.
No live sports, no worries for sports fans
Interestingly we have also seen sports fans turning to movies. At the start of the lockdown Foxtel gave subscribers the chance to discover new content across all genres. A massive 72% of the Sports customers who didn’t have Movies before, but were then given access, have migrated to consume Movies. As a result, movie channels are currently forming seven of the ten most viewed channels for this group, possibly with sports fans after some kind of “action” fix?
While advertising naturally takes a hit in an economic crisis, these highly attentive and engaged audiences are not only consuming more TV than ever before but are also paying more attention to content due to less distraction. They are also more willing to give something new a go – sampling more, taking suggestions from those with differing taste. When we emerge from this shutdown, we may have seen a permanent shift in audience behaviour driven by a new openness in genre consumption.
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