24 hours too many 

1 June 2002 tbs.pm/1822

In an age where TV channels surround us at all hours of the day, the idea of questioning the true viability of 24-hour TV seems a strange one. But with ITV companies, Channel 4, Sky, Telewest and NTL all feeling the pinch, surely the question really needs to be asked now.

I have pondered this question for many a long hour, and can find little or no reason for 24 hour TV in most cases, save a few exceptions that I’ll detail later. But for most channels, even TV from morning to night is borderline when it comes to viability.

It’s all to do where your potential audience is, and what they are likely to be doing. Some commercial radio executives have this worked out down to a fine art, and deliberately change the programming at certain points in the day, to suit the audience who is most likely to be listening. It is those stations who do this the best that get the best listenership figures.

So, how can this idea be applied to television? Well, in a few cases, it already has. Have a look at the CBBC digital channel during term time, and you’ll see 4 hours of the schedule given over to programmes for Schools and Colleges. That was one very intelligent piece of scheduling. During term time, kids are going to be either in school during the day or outside school because of illness and therefore educational programming on that channel was the only way to fill the slots to get the most viewers for them.

Channel 4 schedule a block of programming around afternoon tea time, deliberately aimed at the retired people and housewives sitting down with a cup of tea, and that is an audience that they have very successfully captured, and manage to get good or great viewing figures for those slots. Indeed, Countdown is still regularly amongst the Top 10 programmes on the channel.

BBC-1 and ITV have for years successfully put together a schedule of programmes that get the prime audiences when they are most likely to be watching. From about 3.30pm to 6pm, the programming is targeted mainly for children, but after 5pm a more family orientated element comes in as people come home from work. Then from about 6pm to 9pm, the emphasis is on programming for the family as a whole. Finally from 9pm till late the programmes switch to a more adult focus. This idea of targeting the programmes to suit the available audience has been going on for years.

But strangely, it is the digital channels that are trying to buck this idea of programming to the available audience by actually programming whole channels to a particular audience, whether or not they’ll be actually watching during that time or not. Not surprisingly, those that have gone to the wall are the ones that didn’t really think out their programming policies well enough to know where their audience was.

The ones who are really doing well are the ones who have their audience well scouted. They know where they are, and they know what they like to watch. So, they programme their schedules accordingly. Not only that, but they do ensure that programming for a family audience is on when families will be watching, and programming for a more adult audience is on when kids are not likely to be watching.

So, programme according to the available audience. Don’t just hope that you can pull your audience in at all hours of the day. Indeed for some channels, there will probably be certain times of the day when you will score well, and others where it may not be worth your while.

If you’re programming for pre-school kids, you’re more likely to get great audience figures while the school kids are at school, from 9am to 3pm. School kids are more likely to watch after 3pm until evening time. Housewives and the retired are most likely to watch around lunchtime or afternoon tea, dependent on how you programme your channel. Most entertainment channels will do best around prime time from 7pm to 11pm. In fact, most channels will perform best in those slots.

Also, television performs best in that 7pm – 11pm time period, because throughout the rest of the day, radio will tend to win over TV, and usually quite convincingly. During breakfast, most potential viewers or listeners are in their cars, either on their way to work, on their way home if they’ve been on the night shift, or doing the school run. The workday between 9am and 4pm gets listeners from workplaces where the radio provides background music and ambience, or from housewives doing their daily chores.

Between 4pm and 7pm, again a lot of listeners or viewers are in their cars, usually coming back from work, therefore radio still scores better, but TV does pick up well here from children’s and family programming as those who were in the cars arrive home.

While most people are watching TV of an evening, radio picks up the student audience who are listening while doing their homework, and also picks up well from those who are surfing the net. After all, it’s difficult to watch TV and look at the internet at the same time.

After 11pm, through till breakfast, radio wins again, from those on the night shift, from those going to bed, from insomniacs or those who just have trouble sleeping, and from those who have to be up early in the morning between 4am and 6am, such as farmers, postmen and milkmen.

The only channels that really score well at any time of the day, dependent on what’s on and what’s happening, are news and sports channels. Let’s face facts. The news never stops, and neither does sport for that matter. As a result, news channels need to be on air 24 hours a day, so that they can cover the big stories, no matter whenever or wherever they break.

Also, if there’s live sports action available, then that usually if not always beats sports magazine programming out of site. So, a sports channel can be on for 24 hours a day if there really is enough coverage to fill the available time.

However, outside of these channels, it might be advisable for most other channels to consider limiting the number of hours they transmit for in order to truly maximise both the experience for viewers, the quality of the programmes, and the profits and revenues of the broadcaster.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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Ian Beaumont Contact More by me

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