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September 20, 2019

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TV’s Groundhog Day Nightmare: What happens when they run out of content?



From Mid-March this year, life as we knew it changed significantly. The lockdown created an influx of people at home watching traditional TV with linear viewing increased by 30% y-o-y at the start of lockdown. This was initially good news for the health of TV yet the state restricting movement meant that the majority of TV production came to a complete halt.


Live studio daytime shows such as This Morning managed to adapt extremely quickly to the new regulations. Minimal crew, a couple of presenters and guests interviewed via video calls meant this genre could continue in the ‘new normal’. With an increase of news viewing and lockdown specific programming the ‘in touch’ need state outlined in Thinkbox’s  ‘Age of Television’ report  has been well and truly met. This resulted in unprecedented new audiences being exposed  to daytime – especially those elusive younger audiences . There were +53% more 16-34Adults watching This Morning and +41% more watching Lorraine than this time last year.


But what about when you turn the TV on to get away from the constant Coronavirus conversation? At a combined majority of 67% for “unwind, distract, comfort & escape” these states rely on the type of content that currently can’t be produced at the moment such as drama.


Thankfully, much loved soap operas  - Coronation Street, Emmerdale and  EastEnders - are beginning to get back to production adhering to social distancing rules. However, with rationed episodes running very low, or in EastEnders case now out of stock, it is not likely that they will be back to a full schedule for quite some time leaving more gaps in the schedules for the ever-growing list of re-runs. ITV’s impressive back catalogue of dramas and small factual series that in their first run brought in large audiences are currently taking up a lot of the schedule. Although not new to TV, they are a great opportunity to still reach the mass ITV audience and even take advantage of short-term sponsorship opportunities.


Channel 4 are not as immediately affected to the same scale as ITV as they had a lot of programming ready to go with less of a reliance on soaps. Yet they too will increasingly need to go down the repeat programming route. A big win for them is being able to continue filming Gogglebox, which tops Friday night viewing. However, they could face problems filling their late Summer/ Autumn schedules. They are currently working on how best to get Great British Bake Off’s production up and running yet there are a number of barriers.  The main one being the need to exclude older contributors who fall in to the ‘vulnerable category’ which means it is questionable about whether judge Prue will be part of this series.


We might have missed out with the postponement of Euro 2020 and Love Island UK but it is not looking all bad for the summer, especially for the sports lovers! Or even the not so big sports lover who will just welcome the distraction of something new to watch & talk about! With the football, cricket, F1, golf, horse racing, Tour de France and Tennis French Open all happening within the next few months across BBC, ITV, C4 and Sky, there is almost something for everyone.


Until now all the major players have managed to find ways to keep the schedules filled in one way or another. If we’re already a bit sick of the ‘groundhog day’ vibes, it could potentially look worse in the coming months especially when we reached Q4. Strictly Come Dancing will find ways of making the show work with ‘dance partner bubbles’ and lack of studio audience. However ITV’s crown jewel, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here could be in real jeopardy due to the size of production, the travel and self-quarantine rules. Whereas the soaps are filmed in studio sets specifically made for them, many dramas that would usually involve numerous locations will have to really scale back to be able to make it work. Costume dramas especially could be a ‘no go’ for some time. Not only are costume stylists and make-up artists still not allowed close enough to get those factors right, there is no way to introduce the social distance into the storyline for a series set years before.


The worst-case scenario would be an actor on the set of a major soap getting the virus and it shutting down again. This would push back all hope for other shows to start getting back on track later in the year! The re-runs are re-run again just to fill the schedule and linear TV starts which will feel like a never-ending cycle of unwanted nostalgia making it even harder to know what day it is. However, I have much more faith in TV than that! Inevitably, a certain amount of repeats will fill in gaps for the foreseeable but as we continue to understand how to live in ‘the new normal’, the production process will adapt too. Certain genres might have to take a longer break but there will be ways to make new content adhering to the distancing using camera trickery, fewer locations and smaller casts and crews. The TV is the heart of many homes, or at least the thing your sofa points at and I’m sure everyone involved will continue to do all they can to keep it that way.


Gina Miller - TV Account Director at John Ayling & Associates


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