UK TV viewers watched more linear programming in 2010 than ever before with the growing availability of catch-up and on-demand services acting as a boost to the live schedules. The latest figures from the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) revealed that the average viewer watched 28 hours 15 minutes of live TV per week, greater than two hours more than the previous year and compared with two hours 20 minutes of time-shifted TV. This equates to 92.6 percent of time spent viewing live TV and 7.4 percent on-demand; although, among people with DVRs, the split is slightly more even: 86 percent to 14 percent. Furthermore, among both the general TV viewing population and those with DVRs, the actual percentage watching linear TV has increased slightly over the last two years, according to BARB. Several reasons are given for this trend by Thinkbox, the body representing UK commercial broadcasters, including the recession encouraging people to stay in more, and the increased viewing choice resulting from the DTV switch. But the two main factors cited by Thinkbox are the impact of social networking, primarily Facebook and Twitter, encouraging people to watch live so they can participate in discussions and the ability to catch up on missed episodes, which encourages viewers then to return to the live showing the next week.
This rise in linear viewing has translated into increased consumption of adverts at the time they first go out. Commercial impacts, meaning the number of ads watched at normal speed, during 2010 rose 5.9 percent on 2009. The average viewer watched 46 ads a day during 2010 compared to 43 ads in 2009.
This increase in linear viewing seems to have taken UK broadcasters by surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t have. A U.S. experiment has already found that customers given access to a back catalog of VOD episodes relating to a current series showing live on TV were more likely to tune in to the latest episode as it went out than another group that did not have such access. The clear message, then, is that both social networking and ability to catch up on past episodes stimulates live viewership. Yet while this social networking factor will continue, it may not boost linear viewing even further; Thinkbox believes UK linear viewing may have just peaked.