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Halt in decline of flagship TV news programmes

June 30, 2010

Highlights of a speech given today [30 June 2010] by Stewart Purvis Partner, Content & Standards:

TV audience research released today shows that the decline in audiences for flagship news programmes created by increased choice for viewers has halted.

Ofcom analysed viewing figures for flagship weekday evening news programmes on BBC1, ITV, Channel 4 and Five between 2004 and 2009. During this period the take-up of digital multi-channel TV increased from 63 per cent to 91 per cent and fixed line broadband connections from 11 per cent to 65 per cent.

At the same time, the viewing figures show the average audience across all the flagship PSB bulletins combined was 2.5 million in 2009 a drop of just 200,000 from the 2004 figure and an increase of 100,000 from a low-point in 2006.

Therefore, while consumers have greater access to news and other content on television and online, the evidence shows they are continuing to watch news programmes on the PSB channels as a mainstay of their news consumption.

News programme fight back

The decline in audiences for flagship news programmes began in the 1990s and continued into 2004 but since then audiences have generally remained constant. The latest figures from BARB show (2009):

  • BBC 6 O’clock News 4.3 million
  • BBC 10 O’clock News 4.7 million
  • ITV Early Evening News 3.2 million
  • ITV News at Ten 2.5 million
  • Channel 4 News 791,000
  • Five News (1700) 768,000

The BBC’s 10 o’clock News is the country’s most popular news programme with an average audience in 2009 of 4.7 million. But there’s also been a modest fight-back by ITV’s News at 10, now it has a consistent slot in the schedule adding more than 100,000 average viewers from its own low-point in 2007 of 2.4 million.

Audiences for Channel 4 News have dipped slightly over the period, losing an average of 150,000 viewers; but the audience for Five News has grown from a low point of 548,000 in 2007 to its current average figure of 768,000.

Impact of the news dedicated news channels

The data shows that the impact of rolling news channels remains limited despite the significant growth in available audience. Audiences for the BBC and Sky news channels combined have nearly doubled in the last six years in line with digital take-up. But their combined average audience remains little more than 110,000 with a reach of 16.2 per cent across UK individuals (aged 4+) compared to an average 50.8 per cent for the flagship news programmes on the main channels.

Growth driven by older viewers

News audiences continue to be of an older skew whatever the platform. Six years ago, 39 per cent of the audience for the main public service broadcasting news bulletins was over 65. Now it’s 41 per cent. Only 6 per cent of the average audience is aged 25 to 34. At the same time, 28 per cent of the Sky/BBC news channel audience is over 65, with 10 per cent aged 25 to 34.

Stewart Purvis, Ofcom Partner for Content and Standards, who presented the figures at a BBC Global News event in London today, said:

“The death of TV news on linear channels turns out to be much exaggerated. In fact, these programmes remain the main source of news for most of the population.

“The long term and still to be answered question is whether the current young heavy-users of digital media – and rejecters of TV news will, like the generations before them, learn to love catching up on the day’s events in front of the TV or will they become life-long rejecters of TV news.”

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