Lockdown TV: VOD provides a platform for viewers to live vicariously

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 5, reveals that:

  • With more time to watch, viewers are delving into new content and VOD provides the perfect place to explore, catch up and binge.
  • During lockdown, VOD provides a platform for viewers to live vicariously.

In-depth findings - Wave 5 (zoning in on BVOD & SVOD)

With more time to watch, VOD provides the perfect place to explore, catch up and binge.

Although BVOD and SVOD satisfy the same needs as broadcast TV (with comfort and escape key during lockdown), the difference is VOD is bingeable and viewers are taking full advantage!  This is reflected in the numbers with BVOD viewing up 45% year on year during the period of lockdown.

Lockdown has provided an opportunity for viewers to try on-demand services that previously weren’t on their radars – and integrate them into their new TV repertoires.  From undiscovered content, such as drama or classic comedies like Peep Show, to saving favourite programmes for an hour of indulgence when housemates are in bed, VOD is undeniably playing a more significant role in our TV lives since lockdown.

VOD provides a platform for viewers to live vicariously 

Interestingly, as our lives since lockdown have shrunk, VOD is being used as a way of staying connected to the aspects of life that viewers love – but remain tantalisingly out of reach.  Participants are vicariously living their big dreams through the small screen.  Shows such as Escape to the Chateau, Race Around the World and SAS: Who Dares Wins fulfil the appetite for action, adventure and travel.

Implications and opportunities for advertisers

  • 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

  • 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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