Zai Bennett, Director of Programmes for Sky UK, has called for the broadcasting industry to be more transparent in the way it reports viewing numbers, noting that the way people are watching TV is changing dramatically, and suggesting that broadcasters are underselling themselves.
In a blog post, Bennett notes that while traditional ‘linear’ viewing is still important, more TV shows than ever before are being watched on demand, or through devices other than a TV set. “Whether that’s catching up with Game of Thrones on the way to work, or tucking up in bed with a tablet. And it’s not just younger viewers who are changing their viewing habits, we’re seeing big changes across the board from everyone under 45,” he advises.
“At Sky, we’ve always been focused on these evolutions, with our first on demand services starting as far back as 12 years ago. Everyone wants flexibility, and to be able to watch TV at a time and in a way that suits them. That’s why we make our programmes available to watch in so many different ways – whether that’s binge-watching a new box set at home through your set-top-box, using the Sky Go app to catch up during your commute or streaming with NOW TV,” he says.
“But at the moment, many of these views aren’t being reported. The way that the industry talks about TV viewing isn’t reflective of the ways that people are watching today. We’re supportive of BARB and their work with Project Dovetail to improve the way that TV viewing is captured, but at the moment there are gaps in the audience numbers that the industry uses,” he claims.
“The norm is to focus on an overnight audience or, at most, a seven-day consolidated audience, but we feel that these just don’t tell the full story. For example, any new TV series that we release as a boxset on demand, alongside a traditional week-by-week transmission, such as Tin Star, Riviera, or Fortitude 2, can have more than 60 per cent of its audience completely missed in official figures,” he reports.
“Some show’s audiences can increase by more than six times by the end of a series’ run. The reality is, if someone recommends a show to you, whether that’s Tin Star on Sky Atlantic or The Handmaid’s Tale on Channel 4, you might not come into it until several weeks after it’s gone on air. Overnight and consolidated audiences also don’t capture anyone who’s watched a programme through a linear repeat. This is a well-established way to watch or catch up on a show, which many of our customers choose to take advantage of,” he notes.
“The way the industry reports on TV viewing ultimately means that we’re under-selling ourselves. We need to be more transparent. So, from now on, at Sky we’re going to completely change the way that we measure and report on the performance of our programmes,” he advises.
“Our new focus will be a seven-day cumulative audience. This is available from BARB around two weeks after an episode first airs and captures viewing to all linear broadcasts, including repeats, as well as most catch up and on demand viewing through a TV set, including those watching with NOW TV. Now that we’re two weeks in, we know that the first episode of our brand new Sky Original Production Tin Star has been watched by more than 1.6 million people. And 323,000 views have been made of the episode through the Sky Go app and NOW TV. When you compare this to the episode’s overnight audience of 342K, it’s a big difference,” he adds.
“For shows like Tin Star which we release as a boxset, we’ll also report on its ‘total programme consumption’ once the series concludes, which will give a more complete viewing picture of the series. We’ll calculate this using BARB’s cumulative audience figures, alongside our own internal data that BARB isn’t able to capture, such as any on demand viewing of a show before it’s had a linear transmission,” he advises.
“Tin Star has only just been released, so these figures are still being collated. But we already know that more than half a million people have binge-watched the entire 10 episodes on demand through their set-top boxes. And the majority of this viewing won’t be captured by BARB at all. There have also been more than 1.4 million views of the series through Sky Go and NOW TV” he reports.
“This is a solid performance for Tin Star, but success for us is not just about the size of the audience. We also want to give our customers great value and make sure that we’re making telly they love. I’ve got my fingers crossed that Tin Star will be one of their favourites of the year. Overall, this issue isn’t something that just affects us as a business, it affects the whole industry. I’d encourage other broadcasters to also use a more transparent viewing picture, so we all have a more accurate sense of the shows that have really captured the public’s imagination,” he concludes.