There was a time, not long ago, when however divided they may have been, Britons could unite around a shared enjoyment of good television, said Emily Baker in The i Paper.
Drama series, in the days before binge viewing, would be watched over weeks, increasing engagement; and with everyone sitting down to watch at the same time, each new episode provided a topic of conversation. The rise of streaming has altered and fractured our viewing habits – and according to Ofcom, that process is accelerating.
It reports that the proportion of viewers tuning into traditional TV has registered its sharpest ever decline, from 83% in 2021 to 79% last year. We’re also spending 12% less time watching TV of any kind, which might point to us spending more time away from screens, but is more likely to reflect the appeal of TikTok and other social media platforms.
Chasing a vanishing market
With a “vastly increased array of what I suppose we must call ‘content’”, we rarely congregate around any programmes these days, said Gareth Roberts in The Spectator.
In 2022, there was a steep decline in the number of transmissions attracting more than four million viewers, and only 213 recorded more than six million. I remember a time when to achieve fewer than ten million was viewed as a disaster.
Of course, the proliferation of streaming channels, and the rise of what is known as “snackable content” on social media, has presented a big challenge, but the BBC in particular has not helped itself by chasing after a vanishing youth market – and a limited, progressive section of it at that.
In a “mass medium”, that always spelled ruination.
The loss of reliable hits
It’s striking that for the first time Ofcom has reported a “significant decline” in viewing among “core older viewers”, said Michael Hogan in The Independent.
Partly this reflects a switch to digital catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer, but it is also the case that older middle-class viewers are no longer being well enough served by the terrestrial channels. Reliable hits such as “Poirot”, “Doc Martin” and “Holby City” have gone, and not been replaced. Factual content is dominated by celebrity-driven travelogues and “authored documentaries” in which C-listers discuss their personal issues.
And with 24-hour online news at our disposal, the terrestrial channels cannot rely on the news to drag punters in. The result is that older viewers are going to Gold, Disney+ and Sky Arts for the sort of TV they enjoy.
They can be won back, however. The big channels just need to deliver more well-made mainstream fare, and fewer “Gen-Z dramas, shouty cookery contests” and trashy reality shows.