Zero rated 

13 January 2004

Audience with no one: 55 days on TV

According to this article, “More than 55 days’ worth of programmes on the BBC’s digital channels last year were watched by so few viewers that they scored zero on the official ratings scale” which is interesting in itself for various reasons (even if predictable in places), though BBC News 24 should really be ignored in this analysis since the very nature of continuous news coverage is that nothing much can happen for hours and hours but is suddenly on hand to cover a major piece of “breaking news” (the most overused phrase so far of the 21st century).

However the 314 hours of CBBC that scored a zero rating are of much greater cause of concern, and may help to illustrate the basic flaw with the concept of having a inflexible daytime channel aimed at schoolage children; notably that its target audience are usually either at school, are too ill to watch or playing truant at the local shops. CBBC only comes to its own of course during the school holidays, and schools programmes are still being shown on BBC Two meaning that “Class TV” is probably ignored by many schools.

A way round this problem is to combine BBC Three and CBBC channels into one “young person’s” channel called, er, BBC Three, and this would mean that the channel could be far more flexible as well as not risking to lose half its CBBC channel audience to the commercial sector just before 7pm, though this would go against the “segregation” policy that the BBC seems to have devised for its new channels.

It seems that the BBC intends that when the analogue switchoff occurs there may be few or no programmes for anyone under the age of 18 on BBC One or Two, which essentially ignores the fact that watching television is often a shared experience so breaking up the audience by age and genre ought really to be left to the commercial sector.

Going back to BBC Three, this channel could perform a lot better if it wasn’t cursed with such a narrow target audience (25-34) remit, though it is interesting that key flagship programmes (Little Britain, 3 Non Blondes and the soon to be cancelled Liquid News) do not feature in the top 10 BBC Three programmes for 2003 which are dominated by programmes either premiered on BBC One and Two or are spinoffs.

Audience figures are often what the channel or broadcaster makes of them, to quote: “The BBC, in its defence, said that analyses could be run on any digital channel with similar results. It pointed out that many programmes on ITV2, Sky One and Sky Sports regularly score zero, and branded the exercise, carried out by one of the BBC’s rival broadcasters, as spurious”. Most digital channels may have zero-rated programmes from time to time, but when the pattern of “zero ratings” shows up possible weaknesses in the BBC’s overall strategy it would be foolish to try and ignore them.

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