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“This TV survey could bankrupt us!” “Ignore it then.”

There was a survey this week put out by ICM carried out for UK TV licensing which called it the Telescope report


Published: 10 March, 2011


There was a survey this week put out by ICM carried out for UK TV licensing which called it the Telescope report. It concluded that British Adults believe they watch less than 20 hours of TV a week, around 3 hours a week.

The official line is in actual fact to contradict this and accept that instead official statistics collected by the Broadcasters Audience Research Board (BARB) are true, which show that the “true” average in 2010 was more than 30 hours a week, or over four hours a day.

It puts us in mind of Mister Macawber. UK broadcasting has 3 hours viewing a day, result misery. If UK homes watch 4 hours a day, result, happiness. The truth is likely to lie somewhere between, but unfortunately, splitting the difference and opting for 3.5 hours a day is also result misery, so instead the headlines focus on people thinking they are watching less TV than they actually do.

The problem actually lies in the fact that BARB has changed its methodology to include second TV sets and VoD, so naturally it has “discovered” more viewing hours which were previously disguised. So the headlines that say that linear TV viewing is going up are clearly wrong, they should read, “We measured it wrong last time.” At the same time are we wrong to dismiss what the man or woman in the street says about his or her viewing habits. Perhaps they do other things while the TV is on (like cooking or homework), and don’t consider this a period of watching TV. Perhaps they use a music station to play music and aren’t even in the room with the TV.

Our point is that people generally know what they are doing if they think about it, and if you interview enough people and you do it in such a way that you are getting them to think about it, why throw the results away. Instead we should ignore a survey (the BARB one) which claims that despite there now being millions DVRs in the UK, that only 6.9% of TV is timeshifted and this hasn’t gone up in a year when about 2.5 million more DVRs have shipped.

Because if these new figures are to be believed, there is an end to linear TV in the UK in sight. If you dropped the 4 hours per person viewing to 3 hours, then surely that’s a 25% drop in viewing hours, so a 25% drop in viewed advertising slots. Which if it materialized would bankrupt almost all of the broadcasters operating in the UK.

The announcement of the report is couched in TV defensive terms saying that while catch up TV is growing, it has some way to go to rival the 17.7 million who tuned in live to watch The X Factor final or the 17.4 million who watched England's World Cup exit to Germany.

The report also says that more TV is being watched in the bedroom, and 8% of people are planning to put one into their bathroom. And the report says that ten years ago, people aged 18-24 were the group least likely to have TV sets in their bedrooms (54%), but are now most likely (79%). Are we sure these aren’t PCs, watching live TV?

There are also statistics on catch up services, on eating in front of the TV, and a number of other dimensions if you look up the report, but given that the core statistic of watching times is not accepted as accurate, you have to worry if these can be either. Apparently 97% of households have televisions and there are more than 25 million TV Licenses in force. Which perhaps is the main point of any survey from the licensing authority.


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