For years we TV news hacks have been told by ‘proper’ TV people that in a digital world where people can get news everywhere what viewers really want from television is entertainment. Comedian John Bishop assured viewers during his week on The Nightly Show which displaced ITV News at Ten why would they want to watch bad news when they could have a laugh with him.
Now the numbers are in and they show that in a digital world where you can get entertainment everywhere (Netflix subscribers are averaging an hour a day there alone) what many people want is news and news they can trust.
The Quarter One 2017 ratings for TV viewing show the BBC 1 News audience has increased at 1pm, 6pm and 10pm. With the decline in total TV viewing highest in the TV news averse 16-24 year-olds and non-existent in the news loving 65 plus audience, the proportion of linear TV watchers that choose news is going up not down.
The figures also show that ITV’s experiment replacing news at 10pm hasn’t worked. This is probably the best evidence yet that the old assumptions are wrong.
1. The Nightly Show averaged about one and a half million viewers compared with the two million ITV News had been getting in that slot. ITV’s share of people watching TV at that time of evening fell from the 12% who watched news to 9% for entertainment . According to analysis by Broadcast magazine the hoped for increase in younger audiences resulted in the grand total of just 37,000 extra young viewers.
2. As is often the case, the ratings inheritance from the previous programmes was important. The Nightly Show’s biggest audiences, the only time it reached two million, were all after the very successful drama series ‘Broadchurch’. But ITV News has similarly done well, in fact even better, after big shows like ‘I’m a Celebrity’ when it sometimes got three million viewers.
3. At 10.30pm the audience of about one million for ITV News was half what it was at 10.00pm. Those who did watch were very loyal normally staying with the programme until the end compared with the normal drop off in news audiences at ten on BBC and ITV. This benefitted the regional news which follows ITV News although its overall ratings were similarly dragged down by the Nightly Show effect.
It can, of course, be argued that the problem was the Nightly Show itself. One of the rota
of presenters,Jason Manford, wrote on his Facebook page that he had challenged
the production team ‘’Being funny isn’t enough’. Viewers might have responded ‘Being
funny would have been a start’.
Leafing through the TV ratings books to try to monitor the failure of ‘The Nightly Show’
helped me to stumble across a wider truth. We shouldn’t be surprised that news
gets more viewers than entertainment and drama because, it turns out, that often happens nowadays.
Take the week beginning 6th March 2017. In that week the ITV Evening News at six thirty got an average audience of 3.37 million viewers. That was higher than, for example, ITV’s new prime-time entertainment shows such as ‘Little Big Shots’,’Play to the Whistle’ and ‘Harry Hill’s Alien Fun Capsule’. It was also higher than the imported American drama ‘Lethal Weapon’ and the travelogue ‘Schofield’s South African Adventure’. It is the same story on BBC1 where news audiences are much higher. Apart from the high-rating soaps and the high cost dramas on BBC 1 and ITV, news is just as likely as entertainment to be in the three or four million range that is now more like the norm in early and mid-evening and it is much cheaper. On Tuesday 25th April the ITV News at 1830 with three and a half million viewers was the second highest show on the network all day, only Emmerdale had more, and nothing else in prime time even got three million.
So where does that leave the later evening news on ITV now returned to its normal slot at ten? We’ve only had a few days so far and the headline is that the news is back doing better business than The Nightly Show did but not surprisingly some loyal news viewers who deserved a medal for keeping track of its time slot have got lost along the way and the audience is down by an average of ten per cent on what it was before ‘the experiment’.
The failure of the Nightly Show at ten may have helped us realise some new truths about viewers’ preferences but if if anything it has made ITV’s problem in that time slot even worse.