Worldwide television programmes and practices influenced by the health crisis
Reading time : 8 min
The 2020 health crisis has had a significant impact on television throughout the world, as Glance can reveal. Viewers, particularly young people, have spent more time watching TV. The latest methods of content delivery have continued to grow: on demand, catch-up, preview, and streaming. Current concerns are also reflected in the programmes themselves, as the New on The Air (NoTa) report shows in its analysis of the latest trends.
Television, connecting people in these bewildering times
Stuck at home due to the pandemic, French, Italian, German, British, Spanish and Dutch people all spent more time watching television in 2020.
Although the Average Viewing Time (AVT) dropped at the start of the year, it rose significantly from March onwards in all these countries: April 2020 saw increases in AVT compared to 2019 of +35% in Italy, +27% in France and +19% in the UK!
The rise compared to the previous year continued all year long, beyond periods of lockdown, demonstrating the power of television in these difficult times.
Frédéric Vaulpré, Vice-President of Glance, makes the point: “extraordinary television consumption for an extraordinary year. The upturn in 15 to 34-year-olds’ interest in television is one of the significant trends of the period.”
The USA saw an opposite trend with a 12 minute drop in AVT compared to 2019. The particularities of this audiovisual market and the absence of a general lockdown explain this phenomenon.
New television content delivery methods continue to expand
Within this context, along with the growth of streaming, viewers continued to make use of the latest television content delivery methods. First and foremost this means choosing when they watch their programmes.
It may be in catch-up, after they are aired on TV: this method represented 31 minutes per day in the UK and 23 minutes in the Netherlands.
And there was also an increase in watching programmes before they were broadcast on television: in the UK half of prime-time fiction programmes on BBC One were available on preview. This viewing window generated an average of 14% of these programmes’ audience.
Viewers also watched television on screens other than their TV sets: for example, in Germany, 1 million viewers watched Sommerhaus der Stars (RTL) on their smartphone, PC or tablet, which represents almost half (44%) of the programme’s total audience.
And SVOD enjoyed continued growth with more and more users. Glance now studies the platforms and their programmes across Europe and Médiamétrie with Harris Interactive provides a barometer for France. SVOD subscribers are a new demographics among television viewers. Their television programme preferences are different from the public as a whole: in terms of fiction, they prefer niche and events-related programmes; in the entertainment genre, their choices are mainly reality competitions or live “glamour”.
TV programmes influenced by concerns about the health crisis
In these strange times, as viewers have been turning to the television in droves, broadcasters have integrated the public’s concerns and needs into their programmes. This applies across factual programmes, entertainment and fiction.
Avril Blondelot, Head of Content Insight at Glance explains, “In 2020 we saw an increasing effort to make sense of things. This was an existing trend that has intensified. Due to the health situation, there was greater need for connection, simplicity and accessibility, which television had already been tapping into. Also, a new window has opened for ready-made* shows.”
Factual television: content demonstrates a growing need for explanation and understanding
In 2020, the number of factual programmes on television grew by 8% compared to 2019. This is a basic trend, which had already been observed and continues to grow.
A new type of programme also made its appearance on TV: documentaries about meditation, a practice that is known to help overcome anxiety and stress and encourages living in the present moment. Although they are still few in number, they are a real novelty, such as World of Calm on HBO max, Mindful Escape on BBC4 and Headscape Guide to Meditation on Netflix.
As our contacts have been greatly limited and we have had to fall back on the family unit, our social and human relationships have greatly changed.
Deprived of social interaction, people are turning to their four-legged friends for companionship. So programmes have also taken an interest in relationships with animals. The Dog House, an English format, is a factual entertainment series about a kennel that tries to match dogs with the perfect new family. It is going to be adapted for Australia on Channel 10.
Romantic encounters also suffered in 2020. Dating shows on television therefore adapted and saw continued growth. Netflix is offering two main types: one for intimate romance - Love is Blind - and the other going for flashy seduction - Too Hot to Handle. Let Love Rule, a new twist on the reality dating format - just launched on ITV2 - is growing in popularity among young adults, it’s one to keep an eye on. And finally, Love in the Air is an outdoor dating show, set in Ireland, that respects social distancing.
Connection and accessibility for TV entertainment
Television entertainment in 2020 was defined by a return to basics. The absence of live comedy performances opens up a gap in the market for this genre on television. Stand-up represents the simplest expression of this form. Le Prochain Stand-up (Noovo) in Canada, based on the talent show concept, has worked well among 18 to 34-year-olds.
In another genre, miniature games are also making their mark, such as Lego Masters. Others have already been launched - Pretty Small, a competition for miniaturists, Marble Mania for marble enthusiasts - or are due to appear on screen in 2021 like Chain Reaction.
And “Ready-Made” shows have been broadcast on television in many markets, with very successful launches. The Mask Singer has worked very well in Spain on Antena 3 (x2.2 for 16 to 24-year-olds), Britain’s got talent in Denmark, or the Australian version of Married at First Sight, in the UK on E4.
TV fiction: concerns about the pandemic and a need for light-heartedness
“With regards to fiction, we still have the classic recipes for success. However, the health situation highlights certain niche topics, like dystopian series. And fiction has responded to a greater need for laughter, lightness and connection, just as entertainment has.” This is how Cécile Bertrand, International Research Manager at Glance, sums up the developments that the NoTa service has identified with regards to fiction.
Thrillers still enjoy success and represent 1 out of 3 launches on television. The number of successes at launch is slightly higher than fiction in general.
Some are even set within the family circle, such as Flower of Evil, a Korean series showing a family whose father is involved in some suspicious business. The series increased the audience of that time-slot on channel TVn by 46%, before it was shown on a number of major platforms in Asia.
Platforms are investing in remakes, notably: Sabrina, Battlestar Galactica, Saved by the Bell, Bel-air. While retaining the essence of the original, they have had a makeover to adapt them to the modern day.
Science fiction fills an increasingly large part of the television schedule, with the number of new series set to rise in 2021. For example, Anna, which will be shown on Sky Atlantic and Arte, is a series in which all adults are decimated by a virus and the children, who are resistant to the infection, are left to fend for themselves.
NoTa also notes more and more TV projects inspired by video games, capitalising on the rich narrative and very strong engagement of gamers. Platforms have made significant investment in this area. Alice in Borderland is a Japanese programme shown on Netflix, with gamers who are located in Tokyo where they have to play games to survive.
On the subject of seeking connections, comedy is becoming a necessity, with absurd comedy leading the way. In Denmark, Det Brune Vaertshus on DR2 is about a family whose father organises a brainstorming session to make his family more fun. In the UK, the Vicar of Dibley in Lockdown on BBC One takes an ironic view of the current situation.
In terms of formats, we see an underlying trend for drama episodes to be shorter and comedies longer. In general, the number of episodes in a series is dropping for budget reasons and due to the need to catch the public’s attention quickly: 64% of comedies and dramas have 12 episodes or less. Finally, genres are blending and merging: comedies no longer hold back from dealing with dark themes.
TV in 2021
2021 has not yet seen the end of 2020’s turmoil and has begun in a similar context. It is therefore likely that levels of television consumption will remain high. As for the broadcasters’ programmes and schedules, they will continue to adapt to follow the direction of viewers’ feelings and concerns and open new horizons to them.
*Ready-made: shows that are exported and broadcast in their original version, translated into the language of the country where they are broadcast.
Questions to Avril Blondelot, Head of Content Insight at Glance
Do you think that the pandemic is stimulating audiovisual creativity?
Unfortunately, the pandemic stopped a good number of productions in their tracks and left more space for information and repeats, which has not had a positive effect on audiovisual creation.
However, the severe restrictions that it caused forced to try new topics, new formats and new ways of production. Dating formats for example, which are not new, were relocated and for LOVE IN THE AIR, for example, social distancing is a large part of the format. Broadcasters’ reactions and creative drive can vary from one country to another. Globally, however, one thing in common is producing closer to home, more simply, and that resonates well with viewers’ aspirations. The health crisis has not completely transformed audiovisual creation, it has made certain formats more popular again and in some cases accelerated the growth of formats that could be more COVID-compatible, such as the interest in miniature games in the Netherlands particularly, and the international success of the Lego Masters format.
What notable trend do you think we will see in programmes in 2021?
The number of new series projects should increase again, at least for the coming year, as long as the health situation allows filming. More specifically, science-fiction, video games and remakes seem to be taking off, though the overall volume of projects will not overtake crime series any time soon. International co-production has become more difficult due to the health crisis. But it remains a long-term trend in our industry, as it is necessary to finance the quality of production that viewers expect. Comedies of all types have a lot going for them. For viewers they are a partial remedy to the prevailing gloom. For broadcasters, they are a genre that appeals to young people and presents an opportunity to retain them over time. It is also a genre that is more difficult to deal with and depends a lot on the dose and context, like a lot of things at the moment.
Laure Osmanian Molinero