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.
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.
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.