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TV viewers are creatures of habit

Posted May 1, 2015 - Press Releases

New research from Freeview, commissioned to find out more about people’s relationship with TV, reveals Britain is having a love affair with TV, though viewers stick within their comfort zone when it comes to picking what to watch.

The report, ‘National Obsession: our relationship with TV’, found that more than half (52%) of the nation – that’s a massive 33m of us – admit to being telly addicts. TV forms a solid, valued place in consumers’ lives, with a fifth (21%) saying they watch their favourite programmes out of habit and a third (33%) saying TV brings a sense of structure to their life.

When choosing new programmes, many are risk averse, picking programmes which come recommended by family or friends (43%) or programmes which star a favourite actor (35%). However nearly one in six (16%) admit to trying a new programme out of FOMO (fear of missing out), indicating the desire for social connection that TV fulfils.

The research also found TV is a social enabler, helping people to connect with others – 29% of Britons even felt it helps bring together family, partners or housemates, while just under a third (31%) make some kind of compromise or joint decision with family or housemates about what to watch, showing that the TV viewing context and environment is often as important as what’s on the box.

According to the research, Britons act in a similar way when it comes to TV programmes as they do to household brand names. More than half (52%) of respondents act as television ‘brand advocates’, saying they will recommend a TV programme they have enjoyed. Over a fifth of people (21%) buy into a programme so much that they watch extra or behind-the-scenes spin-off shows, just as they might buy a new product from their favourite brand.

In fact, the research found that people feel closer to some TV ‘super brands’ – like Sherlock (23%) and Mrs Brown’s Boys (22%) – than to major household brand names like Apple (21%) and Coca Cola (16%), showing that some TV programmes occupy as great, if not a greater, place in our hearts than many of the products we buy.

Guy North, managing director of Freeview, said:

“Our research shows the pivotal role TV plays in many people’s lives. It helps us relax and unwind, but also brings us closer to those we love and to the outside world. Advances in technology are making this easier than ever before. Catch-up and on-demand TV have given people a new ability to personalise how they watch television, allowing it to fit in with their daily life. That is why we are excited to be launching Freeview Play, which will allow everyone to fit TV around their personal needs.

“However it’s important to note that while we are witnessing technological change, most people, most of the time, watch the same kinds of programmes they always have. Old habits die hard, and Brits are tied to the three ‘Cs’: caution, compromise and choice. Technological innovation enables this but there is also an opportunity for the industry to balance ground-breaking ‘critics’ choice’ programming with shows that appeal to a mass market.”

Ralph Lee, C4 Deputy Chief Creative Officer, said:

“As much as we love ‘new’ and ‘innovative’ at Channel 4, a successful terrestrial channel has to strike a balance between the familiar and the untested. Viewers don’t want to be constantly challenged and surprised. All of us sometimes just want to kick back and watch a televisual comfort blanket.”

Charlotte Moore, BBC One Controller, said:

“The commissioning challenge for us is how to make programmes that stand out from the crowd and engender loyalty to the BBC. Commissioning live and event television feels more important than ever as it helps create moments that will make audiences feel they are part of something that only the BBC could produce. But I strongly believe that what hasn’t changed over the last 10 years is that putting the audiences first and maintaining quality are still the key to effective commissioning.”

About the research

Research was carried out in two stages, focussing on entertainment and discounting news and sport, by independent research agency ICM Unlimited.

For the first, qualitative stage, we spoke with 18 pairs of people who live together – be that as parent and child, a couple in a relationship, or housemates – in London, Leeds and Birmingham. Following an in-home task to get them to think about their relationship with TV, the interviews explored a range of topics to establish their personal and household TV viewing habits, from the shows they watch, to what triggers them to try a new programme. All interviews were conducted during August and September 2014.

For the second phase, we conducted a nationally representative online survey of 2,000 UK consumers. All interviews were conducted between 15 and 16 October 2014.


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