TV up during bushfire, COVID crises

Australians turn to television during a time of crisis, such as COVID-19 and Bushfires.

They turn to Free to Air television for News, Current Affairs & Sport, and increasingly to Subscription / Streaming for international Drama and Entertainment.

Two reports released last week indicate growing trends amongst Australians.

A Deloitte Access Economics report commissioned by Free TV shows Australians love free commercial television (the report excluded ABC and SBS). During times of crisis viewing goes up, especially for News.

During COVID-19 audiences for News and Current Affairs programs has increased — by more than 40% on average. Three-quarters of Australian see commercial television as a trusted source of News, just slightly behind Public broadcaster Radio and TV.  6.5 million Australians tune into commercial TV News and Current Affairs every day, noting that staying informed and up-to-date is their main reason.

Importantly, in the context of COVID-19, trust in news and information broadcast on commercial television increased. Twice as many people (40%) agreed that they trust it more as a source of news (rather then disagreed, 22%). This is especially true for younger people, more of whom tuned into commercial television during the crisis.60 Similarly, almost twice as many people (47% compared with 25%) were watching more rather than less commercial television during COVID-19.

Proportion of total audience, by genre

Similarly, at its peak, the Free TV national audience during the bushfire crisis was 23% higher, relative to a year earlier.

The popularity of Broadcast Video on Demand is also growing, up 35% from the second calendar half of 2018 to the first half of 2019. In fact, from January to July 2019, more than 340 million hours of BVOD were consumed (both live, and catch up).

More than half of all commercial television audiences for linear television are above the age of 50. In contrast, Millennials are the generation most likely to watch BVOD every day.

The report also found:

  • Free to Air commercial television is available to 97% of Australians
  • In 2019, the total economic contribution of the commercial television industry was $2.3 billion
  • 16,300 full-time equivalent positions supported (directly and indirectly) by the industry in 2019
  • For every person employed by commercial TV, 1.2 people are employed in other sectors.
  • The industry invests $1.6 billion in Australian content each year
  • Connected TVs are still the most popular device for accessing BVOD services
  • When restrictions were lifted, audience levels returned to pre-COVID levels
  • 89% of Australians think commercial television is a valuable service

Free TV CEO Bridget Fair said: “In commissioning this report, Free TV Australia wanted to shine a light on our industry and its many contributions to Australia’s society and culture. We were also keen to ‘take the temperature’ of our audiences to understand the value they place on this free, universal service.

“It turns out that despite increased competition, Australians value commercial television even more than we expected. Access to local entertainment, news and sport is a very big deal for viewers, with 95 percent telling us that losing commercial television would have an impact on society, particularly through the loss of access to news, sport and entertainment.”

Meanwhile a Roy Morgan survey found Australians were adding new Subscription TV services at an astonishing rate during the lockdown period, which started in late March. These services are dominated by international series and movies.

Almost 15.74 million Australians have access to a Subscription TV service (Streaming + Pay TV) up 878,000 (+5.9%) in only three months.

Netflix tops the list at 13.28 million viewers, an increase of over 1 million in only three months (+8.8%) -eclipsing the entire previous 12 months (942,000).

Foxtel grew by over 5.5 million viewers, up 658,000 (+13.6%) since the pre-COVID-19 period -this includes Foxtel Now and Kayo, Binge with the latter launching with a free trial in late May.

Stan grew 729,000 (+19.7%) to 4,434,000 viewers; Disney+ was up 689,000 (+38.2%) to 2,493,000; Amazon Prime Video increased by 678,000 (+45.5%) to 2,166,000 viewers.

Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine said, “The rate of growth is astonishing with Netflix gaining more viewers in this three month period than they gained over the previous twelve months and Foxtel experiencing its strongest growth in many years despite the lack of live sporting content during this period.

“The strong growth for Stan, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video shows that Australians are increasingly willing to try out multiple services to find new and interesting content. Incredibly, over 95% of Stan viewers also have access to Netflix and well over 90% of Disney viewers also have access to Netflix.

“After a bumper few months the challenge now becomes retaining these new customers in the period ahead as Australia gradually re-opens – although Victorians still have some time to wait on that front. Foxtel launched Binge, its competitively priced alternative to Netflix and Stan, at the end of May and this new offering will be a key part of Foxtel’s strategy to attract new viewers in the months and years ahead.”

Apple TV+ was not named in the survey.

Number of Australians with subscription television in the household

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source, December 2019 – February 2020, n= 12,082,
March – May 2020, n= 9,620. Base: Australians aged 14+.

Yet despite Australians turning to television to get them through such crises, there remain risks for Australian content.

There are currently no quotas for Australian on Streaming services (Foxtel has requirements for its Broadcast Service). Elsewhere Free to Air commercial broadcasters are looking to abandon Adult Drama and Children’s TV quotas, as part of “de-regulating” their quota obligations. They are recommending the abolition of “unsustainable” quotas because audiences are dropping while costs are rising.

Screen Producers Australia CEO Matthew Deaner said the pausing of local sub-quotas, temporarily for 2020, was a warning sign.

“We have had a preview of what deregulation would mean for Australian content under the temporary suspension of content quotas in response to COVID-19. Thousands of jobs are at risk because the uncertainty regarding the application of content quotas in 2021 has brought commissioning activity to a standstill,” he said.

“Given the lead times for production, the market needs an immediate signal from Government regarding 2021 quotas, to allow for delivery in 2021. A failure to make a decision in the coming weeks will effectively result in an inability to supply, despite the industry’s readiness to deliver the content broadcasters need to meet their quota requirements.”

Screen Producers Australia is also pushing for local quotas on Subscription services.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.