The BBC’s licence fee settlement process for 2022 to 2027 is now underway. This time there seems to be greater transparency than the previous negotiations in 2010 and 2015 which led to outcomes that effectively reduced licence fee income by c. 30%

It comes at a pivotal time for the BBC, and by extension the creative community across the UK which it supports. Recovery of this important sector relies heavily on the ability of the BBC to operate in the way that its remit requires: with investment, skills, intellectual property and talent flowing to the wider environment

But with £1.6 billion falling due over the next decade on its pension obligations and its Nations & Regions footprint alone, there is little room for manoeuvre if there are further reductions in revenues or top-slicing. The result will be less investment on the screen and a wound to a struggling sector

Advertising demand has risen, with total ad revenue down just 7% in Q3, and Q4 expected to be slightly up—this means ITV will be down just over 10% across 2020.

COVID-19 has accelerated viewing shifts, along with corporate restructuring across the entire sector to try and keep up. ITV is no exception, although the creation of its new Media and Entertainment Division may be less revolutionary than it could appear.

Studios revenue was down 19% for nine months to September but 85% of paused productions are now completed or underway, with nothing major still stalled. However, the added costs of COVID-19 protocols are material and will linger.

In this report, we examine the completion rates of every scripted series since 2018 across all the major UK broadcast channels.

Comparing scripted programmes across different channels by overall viewing is difficult as these numbers are affected by promotion, prominence, competition, the quality of online player UIs and availability.

The rate that series are completed—viewing of the final episode as a proportion of the first episode—eliminates these and allows comparison.

STV now has a clear pathway to reduce its reliance on linear advertising by investing in production, while pushing the transition to digital forward with a UK-wide footprint.

To that end, STV Player has some momentum and recent production company acquisitions, increasing external commissions and PSB Out of London quotas should ensure STV Studios returns to growth in 2021.

Such development is imperative: COVID-19 has accelerated structural change in viewing habits meaning now that content must not only be great, but available widely and immersed in a smooth user experience just to have a chance.

 

Despite numerous examples of critical acclaim for BBC Three programming over the last couple of years, the evidence suggests that its audience has collapsed since the closure of its linear TV channel in 2016.

Annual viewing minutes of BBC Three programming are down by more than 70% compared to its last year of linear TV broadcasting, and weekly reach amongst its target demographic of 16-34s has fallen by c. 70%—a loss far greater than those of other TV channels.

More difficult to assess are the effects of the shift in content strategy. Comedy programming, for example, proportionally shrank in terms of the total volume available while receiving a greater share of consumption, in direct contrast to factual content’s fate. 

The COVID-19 crisis and suspension of sport has hit Sky hard, with Q2 revenue falling 12.9% year-on-year, and EBITDA (while flat for now) expected to fall 60% in H2 as the rights costs from a condensed schedule hit the bottom line

Underlying trends are hard to discern amidst massive disruption, but the UK remains strong, and increasingly less dependent on sport, with continental Europe a work in progress to repeat this model

Longer-term initiatives continue, with new branded channel launches in the UK, broadband launched in Italy, and scope for further moves in Germany provided by significant sports rights cost savings following recent auctions

ITV’s ad revenues were down 43% in Q2 (and H1 down 21%), with the broadcaster noting that July was ‘only’ down 23% YoY, with August “markedly better” again

With most production stalled because of lockdown, Studios was down 23% in Q2 (17% in H1). Production is returning to scale (although hopes for quality scripted should be tentative) but there will be a payment and delivery lag that continues to hit future quarters for both sides of the business

Overhanging this improvement, however, are the structural viewing shifts that have been instigated by the pandemic—streaming services have experienced much greater uplifts and we foresee them grabbing a greater proportion of the viewing pie. Locally, modest BritBox is unlikely to help

In March 2019, the UK government consulted on a wider TV advertising ban until 9pm for food and drink high in fat, salt, and sugar (HFSS), to combat childhood obesity. The government may shortly publish the results more than one year later.

TV and TV advertising are not the cause of children being overweight or obese (O+O). Policy change in this area should inform and educate parents and young children, as they have in Leeds and Amsterdam.

With 64% of the UK population being O+O, obesity is a complex societal issue requiring a multifaceted approach. The evidence from existing rules, and plummeting TV viewing amongst children, says that further restrictions on TV advertising will be ineffective in curbing the rise of obesity in the UK.

Over the past few months we have outlined the evolving challenges that the pandemic has presented broadcasters—from plummeting ad revenues and production stoppages, to increasing SVOD viewing share

Now, however, is the time to shift thinking towards what can be taken forward from this time. There are strategies that were launched through necessity that will provide continued value beyond this period

The opportunity to reduce cost bases, leverage the greater reach of online services, forge better relationships with advertisers and better understand operational needs and limits presents the potential for more nimble, streetwise businesses

Times Radio launches as an ad-free commercial speech radio service on DAB and online. By extending brand reach, it forms part of the marketing funnel to convert listeners into subscribers.

Radio is remarkably resilient for a traditional mass media, and this arrival will complement the strong commercial sector and the mighty Radio 4.

Timing will be a revenue challenge, but this bold, cost-effective, intelligently deployed experiment comes as the news industry is most at risk, a welcome innovation for readers and listeners—and for the sector.