Level 5 lures Irish viewers back to television

Live sport return and high news interest sees Covid-19 lockdown yield fresh audience spike

Level 5 has drawn Irish viewers back to television and video-on-demand with live TV viewership up 6 per cent year-on-year and streaming activity also swelling, according to a new report from marketing group Core.

After a spring spike driven by surging consumption of news bulletins, live TV viewership went into decline over the summer compared to levels seen in 2019. But as soon as the Government implemented Level 5 restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus, the average number of minutes that viewers spend watching television each day began to grow on a year-on-year basis once more.

The Six Nations game between France and Ireland on Virgin Media One on October 31st was the most-watched programme on Irish television in the first three weeks of Level 5, with a live average audience of 788,440. The earlier clash with Italy was the sixth most-watched programme in the period, drawing 508,200 viewers.

"The majority of live sport was technically paused earlier in the year. This isn't the case for the latest lockdown," said Colm Sherwin, managing director of Core Investment. News and current affairs "continue to dominate our media consumption", however.


RTÉ's Nine O'Clock News has seen its audience increase 31 per cent year-on-year since Level 5 was introduced, with consistent growth across the week, according to Core. The bulletin was also the most-streamed programme on the RTÉ Player during October, while in the initial weeks of Level 5 its most-watched edition was the fifth biggest programme on Irish television in the overnight ratings from Nielsen/TAM, beaten only by the rugby, RTÉ's Six-One news programme, The Late Late Show and DIY SOS: The Big Build Ireland.

The home renovation show, presented by Baz Ashmawy, pulled in an audience of about 588,000 to the Sunday 6.30pm slot on RTÉ One as viewers sought uplifting fare.

The bump in live TV viewership during “Lockdown 2.0” has not been quite as pronounced as it was during the first wave of coronavirus, when it trended 9 per cent higher than in same period in 2019.

Sporting comeback

But the return of major sporting events to the schedule means that among 15-34-year-olds, the increase has been higher this time. Live viewing by 15-34s rose 6.5 per cent year-on-year between mid-March until May 5th, as it first grew by double-digits then went into decline. During the first half of Level 5, it has risen 9 per cent.

Adults aged 15-plus now watch an average of two hours and 44 “live” minutes of television every day, while for 15-34s, the tally stands at one hour and 13 minutes.

Broadcasters will also be happy to see advertisers back in the market after a dramatic decline in the second quarter. The number of advertisers on Irish television surpassed 350 a week on two recent occasions, which is above the 2019 average “weekly brand count” of 308 and far exceeds the March-April 2020 lockdown average of just 175.

“Overall confidence has returned for advertisers in the fourth quarter,” Mr Sherwin said.

Streaming on broadcasters’ on-demand platforms has increased 30 per cent compared to pre-lockdown levels, Core said. Des, the ITV drama about serial killer Dennis Nilsen, was the most-streamed show on the Virgin Media Player in October, while the show most popular among Irish users of Channel 4 platform All 4 was The Great British Bake-Off.

Level 5 is also likely to have triggered a rise in viewing to international streaming services, with recent hits include Netflix series The Queen's Gambit, the second season of Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian on Disney+ and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm on Amazon Prime Video.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics