2018 in numbers: TV

Above the Fold

17th January 2019

Well, what a dramatic year that was.

If the Golden Globes are anything to go by, British TV drama is in the best condition it’s been for some time. We’re in total agreement.

2018 was the year the BBC mounted its own dramatic renaissance. Critically acclaimed series such as A Very English Scandal, Killing Eve and Bodyguard held the captivated both the public and the press. Call the Midwife continued to pull in enormous viewing figures, while Inside No. 9 quietly continued to prove itself as the most innovative British show of the decade.

Channel 4 gave us Derry Girls, ITV gave us another dose of the irrepressible cultural phenomenon that is Love Island. Sky brought us Benedict Cumberbatch as Patrick Melrose and the darkness of the HBO import, Westworld. Couch potatoes had much to enjoy.

Yet driving this quality, not to mention investment – the BBC claims it has spent £97 million across 18 different series – in entertainment is the existential fear brought on by Netflix. The streaming giant has also had a stellar year—Queer Eye, Wild Wild Country, The Haunting of Hill House, Maniac and more. Its output is relentless, and its binge-friendly platform has led BBC iPlayer to launch its own auto-play functionality.

Netflix now has 9.78 million subscribers in the UK. In total, 15.4 million of us are subscribed to a streaming service of some sort. The subscription streamers have overtaken the subscription broadcasters (such as Sky, BT and Virgin Media—a combined audience of 15.1 million). People aged 16 to 34, especially, are now watching more content via streaming services than they are on TV.

According to the latest figures from the Broadcasters Audience Research Board (BARB), in 2018 each Brit watched, on average, more than 266 hours of programming from terrestrial and satellite broadcasters—that’s 11.1 days of the year in front of the box. Yet as much as that might seem, it constitutes a 6.3% fall from the previous year. In 2017, we were watching roughly 18 hours more “traditional” TV than we do now.

That should concern the biggest channel groups, and especially BBC and ITV. This was, after all, a World Cup summer—but no ordinary one at that. Gareth Southgate’s boys captured hearts in England (if maybe not in the rest of the UK) and 20.7 million tuned in for England’s improbable semi-final tie against Croatia.

There was other “event TV” too, of course. More than 10 million people watched the series finale of the BBC’s much-loved Call the Midwife. Channel 4’s decision to purchase Bake Off continues to look shrewd—10.5 million witnessed Rahul’s victory in October, eclipsing Gogglebox, the channel’s second-most-watched programme that month, with three times the viewers.

A fall in figures, then, will set alarm bells ringing. However, the BBC channel group has the most cause for celebration after 2018. With an average viewer share of 31 per cent across the year, it was never once threatened by ITV—with an average viewer share of 24 per cent. Channel 4 held a steady 10 per cent, while Sky – for all its financial power, and its monopoly on live sport – only averaged 8 per cent share over 2018.

Whatever happens in to the numbers in 2019, TV fans can be confident of another strong year for entertainment. Stranger Things and The Crown are set to return to Netflix, with Taboo and Peaky Blinders packing a punch for the BBC. And that’s all before we get to what may well be the most anticipated TV event of the decade, the final series of Game of Thrones.

Valar morghulis.