10 October 2022

Binge-watching is never better

James Weinberg looks ahead at the television landscape for this autumn, which includes the launch of ITVX, the World Cup, and streaming giants’ realisation that binge-watching does not always help their subscriber count.

Darker evenings drawing in set the scene for broadcasters to unleash some of their biggest programmes of the year. And this autumn, while linear scheduling dominates the manner in which audiences view content, the trend for viewers to curate their own schedules is developing more rapidly than ever.

While ITV and C4 now frequently drop select series online and in full to satisfy binge viewers, Sky was the first of the big three to release shows this way and this approach continues to get more content in front of customers as fast as they can watch it.

Despite this viewing trend, the tried and tested method to release episodes periodically – once creating watercooler moments, now generating more social buzz and WhatsApp conversations – may be about to make a comeback.

As agency groups mull over the new commercial offering from Netflix, with linear and broadcast video on demand continuing to dominate daily video views for most audiences, the big streaming services have long set the agenda for programme deployment – setting viewer trends that commercial broadcasters soon follow.

ITV’s response to this was to start stripping a series across a week to drive linear viewing and to enamour bingeing viewers. And the impending November launch of ITVX, an evolution of online viewing platform ITV Hub, is set to launch more programmes exclusively online than we’ve ever seen from a broadcaster.

This is where we see key differences between free-to-air content and subscription VoD which may be about to deliver a U-turn in viewing trends.

Both Netflix and Amazon have realised that bingeing is, perhaps, no longer a good thing as it can cause subscription drop-off until the next big thing is released. Amazon is therefore playing it safe with its biggest investment to date, debuting Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power weekly – spreading its $60m per episode budget. 

Netflix, meanwhile, has trialled split season drops with the final series of Ozark and the latest series of Stranger Things, to keep viewers engaged and subscriptions sustained.

While Sky continues to play a major role on advertisers’ TV schedules, its advertising sales still represent a smaller part of its business, meaning there can be more of a tussle between delivering big linear audiences and convenience of viewing for viewers.

One of its bigger autumn releases, This England – based on Boris Johnson’s tumultuous first months as Prime Minister – debuted last week both in full via Sky Box Sets and Now TV and is running on Sky Atlantic every Wednesday evening, satisfying both types of consumers. 

Even so, we continue to see more viewing of these box sets through catch-up, with remarkable figures showing how rapidly entire series are watched after they drop, often within a few days.

ITVX will take centre stage in ITV’s Palooza, ITV’s annual event on 15 November which is set to showcase new programming, commercial opportunities, and increasingly innovative technology.

Firmly demonstrating ITV’s belief that ITVX will majorly influence how its viewers behave, some of its biggest shows are set to release online this autumn, including A Spy Among Friends with two Emmy award-winners, Damian Lewis and Guy Pearce. 

Riches is pitched as a glossy, high stakes drama from the creator of How to Get Away with Murder and Inventing Anna. Meanwhile, ITV favourite David Tennant appears in Litvinenko, the story of Scotland Yard officers who worked for a decade to prove who was responsible for the infamous former KGB officer’s death.

Channel 4 release season five of dystopian and multi award-winning drama The Handmaid’s Tale in November, with Miriam & Alan’s return delivering a lighter tone as Miriam Margolyes and Alan Cumming explore the US, including Las Vegas and Palm Springs.

The broadcaster has also secured Nine Perfect Strangers starring Melissa McCarthy, Luke Evans and Regina Hall following the series’ debut on Amazon Prime last summer, thanks to its ongoing relationship with its creator Hulu, which also debuts Hulu Original Handmaid’s Tale.

Channel 4 has also made slight adaptations to its schedule around the World Cup, with The Great British Bake Off having started earlier this year, while delivering a “counter schedule” to all the football action with Gogglebox ongoing and its strongest lifestyle shows also on air, including Grand Designs and Location, Location, Location.

Last September, records were broken for linear TV advertising spend. This was part of a record year, with Thinkbox citing total spend of £5.46bn, which was up 11% on pre-pandemic 2019 and bigger than the previous high of £5.28bn back in 2016.

With a starker economic picture this autumn, it’s yet to be seen where advertising spend will bottom out, with brands continuing to make later decisions buoyed by more flexibility from TV sales houses.

However, with a decline in the UK subscription streaming market which led to 1.66 million subscriptions being cancelled by 488,000 households according to Kantar in Q2, the cost-of-living crisis will only accelerate that trend as viewers reassess their home entertainment costs.

Naturally, some of this viewing will flow back to linear TV and BVoD, the latter benefitting hugely from continued year on year growth – ITV alone is citing its biggest ever year on ITV Hub with 1 billion streams so far. And the launch of ITVX will capture some of this.

All4 continues to grow. And Sky’s October launch of Sky Stream, its first dish-less streaming box, will pick up a raft of new viewers new to its platform who will find themselves very much at home with SVoD-style programme guides and smart-stick ease of functionality including voice control, at a very competitive monthly price point.

We won’t know the final picture for autumn until later this year but, as ever, it’s a very exciting time for broadcaster content and advertisers.

James Weinberg is executive director, media and product, at mSix&Partners

This article first appeared here: https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/binge-watching-better/1801250