After a bruising few weeks in the wake of the BBC Bashir report, newspapers and politicians have been piling into the Corporation in a sustained attack on its future.
Many angry voices have been calling for abolition of the licence fee and advocating a Netflix-style subscription alternative saying the current system is past its sell by date. But understanding the broadcasting landscape is becoming increasing difficult. It’s like looking under the bonnet of a new car where you know it works but you’re not quite sure what everything does.
What is clear is that streaming services have never been more popular – especially during the recent lockdowns. At the end of 2019 the proportion of homes that had a subscription video on demand service passed fifty per cent for the first time. The perception is that the streamers are providing everything you need so why pay the licence fee? But look at the viewing figures and the picture is less clear.
Netflix, along with the other mainly US-based streaming services, is deliberately vague when it comes to just how many people are watching. Now the TV research group Digital-i has looked at Netflix data from a sample of 2,000 households combing it with that available from the Broadcasters Audience Research Board. They’ve compiled a list of the 20 most viewed TV programmes in the UK in 2020. Channel 4 takes the top slot with The Great British Bake Off which had an average episode audience of just over ten million. BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing comes second with an average of 9.5 million. ITV has nine entries, BBC eight and Netflix has two at 13 and 18 in the chart.
It’s also interesting to see just what we are watching on Netflix. Sixty per cent of its UK programming in 2020 was licenced from traditional broadcasters like the BBC with 40 per cent original shows. US content makes up the majority of viewing on Netflix in the UK. Just four shows make up ten per cent of all Netflix streams including Friends, The Big Bang Theory, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Modern Family.
This research doesn’t take into account the huge figures for televised statements during the pandemic. The last lockdown broadcast by the Prime Minister attracted 24 million viewers to the BBC, ITV, CH4 and Sky with 15.6 million watching on the BBC.
And we mustn’t overlook BBC iPlayer. There were 63 million streamings of the drama Normal People and 40 million for Killing Eve proving a demand for popular home grown content.
Returning to the car analogy its difficult to compare engines since the streamers and the UK broadcasters do different things. But at the moment its far from obvious – based on what we’re watching – that one of the racers should be consigned to the scrapyard just yet.