E-P-G…is easy as 1-2-3

People, at their very heart are creatures of habit. We find reassurance in things we are used to, aware of, and of course trust. Getting people to try something new or different continues to be a challenge no matter the industry.

How we watch television is no different. For sure, it is changing, and seemingly every day, there is a blog, article, or protagonist stating the cataclysmic shift in the way we engaging in television. The reality is far less severe however.  It’s probably fair to say, since the arrival of digital television, how we get to our television content has been constantly disrupted, the programme guide, home page, recommendations, series linking, promotions. I could go on and on. Platform operators and channel brands are continuing to push different methods and journeys towards their content. Which as a viewer is great.

It’s great because it gives us more choice and control over what we want to watch, and when we want to watch. Yet still, today, live scheduled television, delivered and controlled by channel brands continues to be the main way in which we engage with television.  With all this choice, we still rely and depend on channel distributors to curate a schedule for us, providing programming to suit our need states at different times of the day.

As live TV continues to dominate our viewing experiences, then by default how we get to our live TV continues to play an important part. For sure, channel brand awareness continues to grow (I know off by heart the numbers of my favourite channels), but the position of a channel within the EPG still to this day is important in driving organic exposure as viewers work up the EPG to find something that appeals to them.  It’s a force of habit that is still prevalent.

In Feb 2011, we saw possibly one of the largest shake-up of a channel line-ups within a platform operator, when Sky ‘re-shuffled’ their EPG listings. And with it, huge impacts on channel audiences.

Fox, previously in EPG slot 164, moved forty places to 124. It’s audiences jumped around 30%.  MTV, in a period of self definition, moved from slot 350, to 126.  It’s audience more than doubled.  These are just two examples of many.  The point is, as any channel researcher will tell you, EPG position matters.  It matters because it still represents a fundamental way in which many of us access and discover programming.

Albeit crude, there is a diminishing relationship between audience, share and EPG position the lower down the EPG you go, although genre of channel, among many factors does create outliers. But a relationship exists, and from which you can model to some degree expected changes and differences.

EPGposition

So what of Sky’s recent EPG shift at the beginning of May? It is certainly not as radical as their re-shuffle in February 2011, they have moved all the +1s out of their slots in the 100s and in their place taken the opportunity to bump many brands higher up the positioning. But how have these changes impacted on audiences?

Although possibly too early to tell for sure, but looking at all platform viewing by BARB (so including not just Sky viewing), some channels have certainly shown signs of benefiting from the changes.

One of the biggest beneficiaries is that of Sky Two, which shifted forty places from 163 to 123. As with Fox seven years ago, in the two weeks following the change compared to two weeks before the change, viewing increased by nearly 30%.  Discovery and National Geographic, both of which moved out of the 500s into slots 125 and 129 respectively, have seen viewing increases in double digits.  And it’s not even just the ‘multichannels’ that have been affected, ITV HD, previously in slot 178 on Sky, moved to the prime 103 spot in regions where the regional delivery matches that of the home region.  This change has seen ITV HD audiences jump by over 60%.

Of course, not all channels seem to have benefited at this stage. But it should be noted this data is based on all platforms, rather that just Sky Viewing itself (which is possible to analyse via a BARB data provider), so it may be the case some of the changes are even more magnified than is shown.

However, as much as it’s clear EPG position continues to play an important role in overall audience size, behaviours are changing, and in subtle ways in which to suggest this importance is potentially decreasing.

Over the last couple of years, although the number of TV channels broadcast has increased (306 BARB Reported Channels in January 2016, compared to 331 channels in May 2018), the average number of channels we are actually watching in a given week has continued to decrease.

The chart below identifies that of BARB reported channels, based on a minimum of 3 minutes viewing, in recent weeks we are now watching fewer than ten different channels each week.

AverageNumberChannels

These figures will differ by demographic of course, but the trend is possibly the most significant. We are becoming choosier in the channels we watch.  This of course is not necessarily a reflection of decreased EPG importance, it could be due to a variety of reasons, including viewing moving to non-linear formats and the impact that has on television viewing time.  One additional possible reason perhaps as to the recent agreement by Sky to carry Netflix within it’s Q platform, keeping viewers within it’s own EPG without them leaving the Sky platform altogether.

So, what does this all mean, well, things are changing, and we’re becoming more choosy in the variety of channels we watch, which if you’re a TV buyer may be of concern if you want to maximise your reach, and may yet be another indicator of the growing need for addressable ad-tech within television.  That being said, even with some of these changes, there is no denying that the EPG and the broadcast schedule still continue to provide a key and important role in how and what we watch on television.

 

 

One Player to rule them all

If the stories are true, the UK PSBs are poised to abandon a decade of competition in the delivery of television online, and join forces to offer a single online VOD player.  This new service, in effect a return to the ditched Project Kangeroo, will act to counter the ever growing threat of subscription services as a route away from linear broadcast.

As behaviours change, the ability to access a wider variety of programming from a single point of entry can only be a good thing for the viewer. Obvious questions remain about how it would work, especially in terms of BBC and commercial content working side by side, and of course, it is unclear as to whether this service will be a subscription or free at the point of access service, which if it is begs the question as to how competing sales houses integrate with each other. A lot of details to sort out for sure, but if it is the latter then there are significant potential benefits for the commercial TV industry. VOD is an ever important market, but the ability to buy consistent demographics and in a transparent way, continues to elude us.  This tie up in effect would see all PSBs collecting the same information on viewers, to the same standard, in the same manner, for the first time.  Given the recent collaboration by ITV and Channel 4 in this field, I wouldn’t be surprised if this manifests.

Whether this has any real impact on the rise of Netflix and Amazon however remains to be seen. On the face of it, we’re initially talking about a reduction in button pressing, which is of course great, but if it continues to be external to the main EPG, then there are still barriers at play, and the success of online players can be down to multiple factors.

We can see this in the performance of the native players themselves as there are some divergences by broadcaster in recent times. BARB TV Player Report data collects viewing data from all streams in the UK and what can be seen is that some are performing better than others.

Onlineplayers

Now it should be noted, that BARB data within this report only includes viewing to devices (PCs, Laptops, tablets and Smartphones), so it misses out the big growth area of TV applications, but results are interesting nonetheless.

Across the last year, there have been notable declines in viewership to both the iPlayer and Sky Go, but alternatively increases in viewership for All4 and ITV Hub.

Even just looking at quarter 1 this year (and therefore removing the impact of Love Island etc), then we see year on year growth of 14.4% for ITV Hub and 24.1% for All4.

Q1yoy

These are impressive statistics considering these players have been available on all devices (operating systems) for some time and therefore just go to show how successful both Channel 4 and ITV have been in curating content for their online players that suit the screen size and the demographic most likely to use it.  I myself have been a long time critic of the future growth in viewing on devices, in part noting the growth on TV Set platforms (which it should be clear more than off sets any declines on devices), but these results from ITV and Channel 4 show just how it is still possible to create and target content that works across all devices, even if I do still believe the big screen is the screen of choice.

Whereas the Sky Go results (declining 9% in Q1 2018) can in part be attributed to the growth in the SkyQ app which is not measured by BARB, it is the decline in BBC iPlayer usage that most highlights the changing behaviours of many.

onlineplayersYoY

These numbers if anything also highlight the now rather curious decision of the BBC to shut down the BBC3 linear channel which specifically served younger audiences. There is little suggestion they have moved to the online service, on devices at least.  That being said, the BBC themselves have recently stated that Q1 2018 was their most popular quarter to date for the iPlayer, so this can only mean significant growth on the TV set platforms and away from devices, which is not surprising given their heavy drama based programming. But it does further re-iterate the need for joined up thinking for player apps, you might have the best integrated collaborative app around, but if it still difficult to access from the EPG then you’re in trouble.

Either way, these recent developments have got to be a good thing, not only for the viewer, but also for the UK television industry as a whole.