From comic relief to the comfort of nostalgia: 5 ways our TV viewing has changed in lockdown

To help understand the changes to TV viewing, Thinkbox commissioned Ipsos MORI 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 MORI, 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.

The first wave of research findings have revealed several ways that living under lockdown has influenced how and why we currently watch TV.

Craving comic relief

  • In these serious times, comedy on TV is booming – with viewing of comedy shows up 40% year on year in the first three weeks of lockdown.
  • Light entertainment shows too, especially already much-watched Saturday night TV, also have more importance than ever – the audience for the first episode of the new series of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent was up by 7%. Overall, peak time Saturday night viewing is up 9% year on year.

Families reunited

  • Shared TV viewing has grown by 37% year on year since lockdown began, compared with a 15% increase in watching TV alone.
  • Examples of TV shows that have seen significant jumps in shared family viewing include Channel 4’s Gogglebox (up 41%) and In For a Penny on ITV (up 47%). Sky Cinema, with lots of family-driven films, is up 48%.

New TV routines

  • New TV routines have emerged as we find ourselves with guaranteed availability at certain times of the day.  This is being seized on as an opportunity to bond, and TV is often central to this.
  • For example, the study found a couple that are both now working from home and eat their lunch together in front of the TV at the same time each day.
  • Another dad watches cookery shows with his young kids before heading to the kitchen to make what they’ve just seen.
  • The study has also seen families creating new household TV habits around key news broadcasts and teens reconnecting with parents around classic comedies such as Comedy Central’s Friends or shows like ITV’s Saturday Night Takeaway.
  • There is also more compromise viewing, as families jointly choose TV to suit everyone rather than meeting their individual viewing needs.  This includes films, for example a mum in the study introduced her teenaged daughter to the Twilight series so they could watch it together.

Comfort in nostalgia

  • With many seeking to escape reality for a while, nostalgia is often seen as the safest choice – for example, since lockdown began, viewing of Only Fools and Horses on Gold is up 20% year on year and Last of the Summer Wine on Drama is up 30% year on year.
  • This presents new opportunities for parents and kids to watch classic TV shows together, which serve the needs of everyone and create a positive feeling of nostalgia.
  • The study found that the familiarity of nostalgic comedy and other content gives us a break from worrying about the present, and allows audiences to reminisce about their youth, and even find company in old TV and films.
  • With live sport off the screen for the moment, it is often being replaced in TV diets by comedy and cookery shows. Many sports fans are watching classic matches on Sky and BT Sport – another form of nostalgia which takes people back to a better time.

Newfound news junkies

  • Viewing of TV news content more than doubled (up by 124%) in the first three weeks of lockdown as we all tried to stay informed. Sky News viewing, for example, has tripled year on year since lockdown began.
  • The study has found that although news adds to our anxiety, our need to stay in touch makes us constantly seek the latest update. 
  • As lockdown progresses many are ‘windowing’ their news consumption, tuning it at certain times of the day, such as early morning or for government briefings, to reduce anxiety. This is particularly true for families with children.
  • Whist social media offers vital means of connection to friends and family, the study found that it’s mistrusted for news, with unvalidated stories causing undue stress and anxiety. TV is turned to as a source with integrity.

Matt Hill, Research and Planning Director, Thinkbox, said:

The effects of social distancing are profound.  Our media habits are dramatically changing as a result of the new situations we find ourselves in and it is vital we understand what those changes mean for the TV and advertising industries. This ongoing study will do this. What is clear already is that TV has many roles to play. The huge breadth of broadcaster content – live and on demand – is coming to the fore, with people exploring all corners of the TV universe to keep them and their families entertained.

Ben Page, CEO, Ipsos MORI, said:

TV is again uniting Britain. We are excited to be working with Thinkbox to bring to life the role TV plays and the value it offers to audiences at a time of national crisis. New routines and habits are emerging, with TV bringing households together to seek comfort in shared experiences. It is also fascinating to see the value and trust audiences are placing in TV news, to fuel our desire to stay informed (even if we do need a little light relief afterwards).  Our multiple waves of rapid turnaround digital immersions with households across the country will show us the impact of these changes in the short and long term, so the industry can quickly react with responsive strategies.

Over the coming weeks Thinkbox will be regularly releasing short video highlights of new findings as TV viewing habits continue to evolve in lockdown.

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