The plunge in the UK economy in Q2 2020 due to the pandemic-induced lockdown reduced advertising expenditure by close to one-third, recovering in Q3.

Impaired mobility of consumers dramatically reduced expenditure on print and out-of-home media, which are reliant on footfall, alongside cinema, whose theatres have been shuttered on and off all year.

The paradigm shift in consumer expenditure to ecommerce in 2020, which will moderate in 2021 as mobility partly returns, boosted online display while search was flat due to impeded travel plans.

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.

 

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

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.

Even with lockdown continuing and competition for time still almost non-existent, linear viewing is heading back towards 2019 levels after its big, early boost

The inevitable fatigue around COVID-19 news, along with the growing staleness of the TV schedule caused by content supply struggles, are behind the decline

Unmatched TV set use, made up predominantly of streaming and gaming, has held onto much of its growth, not affected by many of the challenges that linear schedules face. This trend will inform future viewing patterns

ITV TV advertising was down 42% in April, better than expected—but there was no Q2 guidance. We believe ITV has outperformed the market, aided by large audiences, with 22 programmes with viewing above seven million, double the number over the same period in 2019.

The TV production stoppage hits ITV in two ways—leaving gaping holes in the schedule and cutting ITV Studios revenues. ITV Studios revenue was down 11% in Q1 (£342 million), with no guidance given for Q2 when the production shutdown will really come into effect and likely devastate previously expected revenues. ITV note that demand for library content is up, however, although much higher margin, this will only go a small way to offset lost production revenue.

The Love Island cancellation is a major blow, with the benefits that the format brings ITV—youthful, simultaneous, easily-monetisable, cross-platform engagement for six nights a week for over two months, akin to a major sports tournament that ITV owns—lost. But BritBox use and subscriptions are both up.

The UK lockdown since mid-March has boosted TV time to levels not seen since 2014, with broadcast TV and online video each growing by nearly 40 minutes/person/day.

While trends vary significantly by demographic, news consumption has been a common catalyst for linear TV’s growth, benefitting the BBC above all. Although Sky News has also flourished, Sky’s portfolio has been seriously impacted by the lack of live sport.

2019 extended many of the long-running trends of the last decade, but, notably, online video’s growth rate appeared to slow among youngsters, in contrast to older demographics. 35-54-year-olds watching more VOD will have significant implications for linear broadcasters down the line.

COVID-19 has led to an unprecedented decline in advertiser demand for TV, and while the steepest drop has occurred, broadcasters will feel the impact over a long period of time.

Programming costs are being cut or deferred, but it is not possible—or even sensible—to reduce total programming budgets significantly in the mid-term due to existing contractual commitments.

Increased government support in the form of advertising spend, a loosening of Channel 4's programming obligations—the lifeblood of the independent production sector—and revisions to existing measures (to capture a greater proportion of freelancers) will be required to ensure a flourishing, vibrant sector for the future.

Although increases are moderate so far, it is inevitable that overall video viewing will rise given a reduction in competition for people’s time. So far, unsurprisingly, TV news consumption has ballooned while unmatched viewing—a proxy for SVOD usage—has increased.

However, disruption to production of TV content and cancellation of live events will leave holes to fill in the schedule.

Flexibility is built into some types of programming, however nothing can replace live sport, while disruption in the production of scripted programming—especially high-volume soaps—will have knock-on effects that continue for years.