So are we watching more or less TV than we did a decade ago?

If TV shows are doing half the numbers Blue Heelers used to crack, then we must all be switching off right? Wrong.

2013-12-21_2108It’s a question that I’ve seen raised time and again, both by readers and industry: Are watching more or less TV than we did a decade ago?

You only have to glance at old ratings figures to know that shows like Blue Heelers was up to 2.4m viewers in 1997 (that’s pre-OzTAM) and Dancing with the Stars was regularly getting over 2m in its biggest seasons. Yet now a show is a hit if it breaks the “magic million.” So it means we’re all switching off right?

Not necessarily.

In my humble opinion the landscape changes every two years. Pay TV began impacting on our primetime viewing. There were DVDs, gaming and internet distractions. Then along came multichannels, timeshifting, online catch-ups and now binge-viewing. It just means the way we watch has changed.

Our tastes may be more niche. We don’t all sit down to watch CSI or Australian Idol as a nation anymore. But we’re all still drawn to content, just in our own individual programming timelines.

Sydney Morning Herald scribe David Dale, who runs the excellent Tribal Mind column, has compared viewing averages in the mainland capitals between 6pm and 10.30pm from 2003 / 2013.


This list is partly impacted by TEN’s downturn. We already know other networks such as the ABC have benefitted from that this year.

Still, it’s good for television overall. It remains healthy, even with a modest 4% rise.

As Dale also notes, while viewing may not have kept up with population lifts, these numbers are for Overnight viewing only (Live / As Live) and don’t include Timeshifting and Catch-Up TV.

“Nearly a quarter of the viewing of most dramas on television now takes place within seven days of the original broadcast, because 60 per cent of homes have recording devices or use the catchup services provided by most networks,” he writes.

“So if you take timeshifting and catchup into account, you find that the same proportion of the populace is watching TV now as was watching in 2003.”

In a July TV Tonight poll here’s the way you voted in the question of the balance of viewing live vs Timeshifted:

75% Timeshifted: 35%
75% live broadcast: 20%
50% live broadcast / Timeshifted: 18%
100% Timeshifted: 15%
100% live: 9%
Other: 3%

9 Responses

  1. “Shoudy Chen December 22, 2013 at 9:44 am –
    Many viewers are watching less drama in my opinion. In the past decade, there were more viewers watching drama shows then they were now.”

    I think Drama Viewer numbers are the same, but as David says they’re just watching it differently.
    I know i dont sit down and watch a show each week (Mostly coz they muck around with repeats and timeslots)
    And just watch them as whole seasons when they arrive on DVD.

  2. We are watching the same TV but the advertising revenue has halved.

    Some of this is due to the economic cycle and lack of increase in retail sales. Some of it is due to competition for advertising from the internet.

    But much it is due to timeshifting and catch-up viewing of dramas and the fact that the TV people watch live is also the TV they use phones, tablets and laptops during and they aren’t paying attention to the ads.

    Seven, Nine and the ABC are looking good. But it remains to seen if people want a 3 commercial network and two extra secondary channels run by SBS. .

  3. Probably worth pointing out that the 320% increase for Pay TV is quite warped due to the timescale chosen. From the available figures it’s evident that initial Pay TV growth was fast but had slowed down significantly by 2002~2003, had rapid growth between 2003 & 2008, and has been pretty stagnant at ~30% share ever since.

    Looking at the last 5 years might have been more representative, if less dramatic…

  4. In 2003 the Oz population was 19.88 million. In 2013 the ABS estimates the Oz population at 22.13. That’s a 20% increase over the same time frame that TV experienced a 4% increase. And tbh, I’d take ABS numbers over industry supported data any day of the week.

  5. Yep it is true. Series link on many recorders makes it so easy. For example I series link the project and watch it most night later on in my own time (and I can ff through stories that don’t interest me) as the live on air time does not suit me

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