Lockdown TV: Viewers are enjoying new formats

To help understand the changes to TV viewing, Thinkbox commissioned Ipsos to conduct a new real-time study following 12 households across the UK as their routines, needs and viewing habits change week by week.

As the nation stays home and TV viewing soars (up 24% since lockdown began to an average of 3 hours, 40 minutes a day per viewer, some 5 hours extra a week) a new study of the first weeks of lockdown has revealed how the pandemic is changing how and why we watch TV.

‘Lockdown TV’, commissioned by Thinkbox from Ipsos, is based on video diaries being kept by 12 households across the UK. They are each keeping track of their TV viewing habits as the nation adjusts to spending much more time at home. Excerpts from the video diaries are available to watch online.

Our latest update, Wave 7, reveals that:

  • Viewers have appreciated the effort broadcasters have made during lockdown and have enjoyed seeing new formats emerging.

In-depth findings - Wave 7

From COVID specific content such as ITV’s Isolation Stories to positive and uplifting content like Channel 4’s Mo Gilligan’s All-Star Happy Hour, viewers were wholly positive about the lengths the broadcasters had gone to during lockdown to produce content in tough circumstances. That included the new formats produced specifically for lockdown but also those that have been adapted accordingly, such as talk and panel shows.

However, as we emerge from the depth of social restriction, the desire for uplifting, entertaining programming is undoubtedly starting to increase.

Implications and opportunities for advertisers

  • As the appetite for COVID-specific programming decreases and viewers begin to settle into a new found routine, it’s likely that the same will ring true for TV advertising. The combination of exceptional value (c. 30-40% less than this time last year), broadcaster incentives, and increased levels of viewing means that there is a prime opportunity for advertisers (particularly retailers) to re-energise their businesses through TV.
  • There is a real opportunity for advertisers to ride the wave of togetherness that TV is providing – and will continue to provide after lockdown. Shared viewing can heighten emotional engagement and is a major facilitator of brand conversations, both off and online.  Ads that are talked about are more likely to generate fame, which was shown by Binet and Field in The Long and Short of It to outperform all other business metrics.
  • The value placed on Broadcaster VOD has increased alongside TV viewing.  As viewers have more time to delve into and binge watch content, there is an opportunity for advertisers to take advantage of the prime – and trusted- advertising real estate that the format offers.
  • Viewers are tentatively starting to think about life post-lockdown, and are highly aware of the duty of care that advertisers have to their consumers.  Once this has been demonstrated, there is a great opportunity for brands to connect through heartfelt, uplifting, human stories.
  • As lockdown progresses, there is a real opportunity for advertisers to provide some light relief.  Audiences are receptive to ‘cheaper’ production methods - such as self-filming or running classic ads - as long as brand tap into existing needs (such as the need for connection, comfort or distraction) and remain sensitive to the current situation.
  • The COVID crisis is shaking up buying behaviours, many of which have been entrenched for years. For those able to invest, TV advertising provides an opportunity to build new or enhanced brand relationships that may last well beyond lockdown.
  • Viewers are watching content together that inspires ‘doing’ – cooking, crafting, exercise – genres of content that they hadn’t considered before. Brands fitting these categories have an opportunity to build contextual brand awareness through advertising.
  • Many are spending evenings watching films with their family, planning ads around family classics or nostalgic content during this time could deliver high returns.
  • TV is not only a source of comfort at the moment, but also trust and truthfulness. While viewers are looking for reliability, this is a great opportunity to build a relationship with consumers and form brand loyalty. Advertisers should make sure they’re authentic, contextual, and respectful to the situation.
  • Sports fans are looking for a replacement. While classic games are filling a void, big TV events are being produced to simulate the atmosphere of a sport event, and tongue-in-cheek content is emerging to open up placeholder genres or hobbies to a wider audience - all of which could allow for some clever sponsorship opportunities.

In summary

  • Viewers appreciate the job that the broadcasters have done during lockdown but the appetite to return to normal is increasing. That’s great news for advertisers who can capitalise on the exceptional value and volume of viewing that TV currently offers.
  • Lockdown has instigated many new TV habits and routines and diversified the content viewers watch.  TV programming has also brought families together, which is something that is likely to stick once the restrictions come to an end.
  • Lockdown has provided an opportunity for viewers to explore BVOD platforms that were previously off their radar and integrate them into their viewing repertoires.  This is good news for advertisers looking for prime, trusted and targeted advertising opportunities.
  • Viewers are starting to look forwards, albeit tentatively, but lockdown has highlighted the importance of, and appetite for, human contact and relationships.  As long as brands remain sensitive to their duty of care, there is an appetite for creative that taps into these much-anticipated real-life moments.
  • The COVID crisis has changed our relationship with TV creative.  As lockdown progresses, there’s an increasing desire for humour and distraction, and advertisers have license to incorporate cheaper production methods - as long as they demonstrate a ‘duty of care’ to their audience. 
  • Lockdown has created major shifts in both viewing and buying behaviour. There is a heightened state of consumer consciousness and a greater demand to see real people and situations reflected in TV ads.
  • We’re living through unprecedented times and TV is providing a source of comfort and commonality with those around us - both in our households and beyond - and an important means of creating structure within our new, lockdown lives.
  • TV news is as especially important as the appetite for up-to-date, reliable and trusted information increases.  Although the ‘news blues’ is becoming an issue for some, TV news bulletins enable viewers to manage their exposure more effectively.  Meanwhile the wealth of entertaining TV content in the UK provides some much-needed light relief.


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