The power of the digital revolution to change the way we watch TV has been graphically illustrated by the first set of viewing figures for digital homes.
As revealed in last week’s Media Week, digital Barb figures showed – albeit based on a panel of just 148 homes – that the main terrestrial players will have to accept substantially lower share in the future.
With the first official ratings for digital homes arriving on agency and broadcasters’ desks in their consolidated form on November 19, a first glimpse of the new digital order is now available.
The initial findings, based on broadcaster analysis from Wednes- day’s unconsolidated figures, showed that all the terrestrial operators had been hit – with the exception of BBC 2 which improved on its share in analogue multichannel homes by around 4% .
Consolidated figures for the week ending November 7 show that, as a whole, terrestrial viewing was down 32% in SkyDigital homes, compared with a drop of 25% in multichannel homes. Channel 5 and Channel 4/S4C suffered most dropping from shares of 6.1% and 10.6% in all homes to 2.8% and 5.9% respectively.
Electronic Programme Guide
BBC 1 slipped from a 26.6% share in all homes to 18.4% in digital homes. ITV recorded one of the smallest falls, dropping only 24% in digital homes despite the fact that the channel is not on Sky’s Electronic Programme Guide.
SkyDigital viewers wanting to watch ITV have to switch out of Sky’s digital service using their remote control. ITV has been quick to pounce on the results to justify its controversial decision not to be on the Sky platform, and consequently not on the EPG. “This research proves that people watch great programmes, not technology,” says chief executive Richard Eyre.
Buyers also appear to be backing ITV’s stance, with most expressing little concern about ITV’s absence from Sky. “While it’s a little to early to tell, if I were ITV, I wouldn’t be overly concerned at this point,” says Andrew Canter, broadcast director at Mediapolis.
“ITV must be delighted with this first wave of data, given it isn’t even on Sky’s EPG,” comments Paul Parashar, broadcast director at New PHD.
BSkyB, on the other hand, begs to differ, citing research that demonstrates that if ITV were to lose a quarter of its impacts for the five years up to, and including, 2004, it would be on course to lose over £500 million in revenue.
Research by Merryl Lynch shows that at the end of 2004, SkyDigital is expected to be in 5.2 million homes, representing a 23.1% penetration of all UK homes. Using Zenith Media’s ad revenue estimates of £2.1 billion in 2004, if the network has consistently lost 25% of its impacts it would lose £522.2 million over the period.
Channel 5’s chief executive, David Elstein, says he is not concerned by the figures. “Any release of figures from such a tiny sample as this should carry a huge health warning,” he says, adding that the 148 homes used in the test was “hardly a representative sample”. “I’d find it hard to treat this research as anything more than a dipstick,” he says.
He is not alone, various broadcasters have dismissed the figures due to Barb’s shallow pool of digital participants – there are 4,500 Barb homes on the whole panel.
Paul Robinson, vice-president UK of the Disney Channel is one of them. “Digital is clearly an exciting development in television’s history, but it’s too early to say just who is watching it,” he says. “We’ll wait and see.”
The absence of ONdigital data from the half a million or so digital terrestrial homes is also a cause for concerny. ONdigital data is not expected to be included for up to 10 months.
“There is a long way to go before there is a true representation of people,” says Jeff Henry, chief executive of Granada Sky Broadcasting. “When your channel is potentially being watched by around 500,000 people who aren’t part of the digital Barb mix, you’re obviously not going to get a true sense of how well you’re performing.”
Also, the demographics of Barb’s digital panel are slightly different to the standard, with more of a family bias. Plus, the families that took part, were on the whole, of a greater size, with 15% more households with four or more members.
Consequently, for some broadcasters, the results proved aboon. Nickelodeon pumped up both its flagship Nickelodeon channel and its recently launched Nick Junior in digital homes, netting 2.2% and 0.8% respectively, – up a substantial 10% and 300%.
Granada Plus, part of the Granada Sky Broadcasting portfolio almost doubled its share from 0.6% in analogue multichannel homes to 1.1% in digital homes.
Janie Grace, managing director of Nickelodeon UK, puts the success of her channels down to the ease of navigating digital TV, especially among kids. “We know from research that kids are particularly savvy about digital television and using the EPG,” she says. “I am particularly delighted that our new Nick Junior channel has done so well.”
Elsewhere, for those either not yet on a digital platform or waiting to finalise carriage, the results present a compelling case for going digital.
“For the smaller niche channels, these results are very encouraging,” says Robert Ditcham, commercial director for teen channel Rapture, which is set for its SkyDigital debut on November 27. “The EPG has created a more level playing field with niche channels receiving a much more accessible presence,” he added.