Live TV viewership fell 7% in first half of 2021 as pandemic effect waned

Streaming of broadcasters’ content still higher than before Covid, says Core

CBS’s Oprah Winfrey special  with Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, was the most-watched programme on Irish television in the first half of 2021. Photograph: Harpo Productions/AP

CBS’s Oprah Winfrey special with Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, was the most-watched programme on Irish television in the first half of 2021. Photograph: Harpo Productions/AP

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Live television viewership declined 7 per cent year-on-year in the first half of 2021, as the uplift in audience levels seen during the first lockdown, in 2020, was not repeated and the interest of younger viewers slumped once more, according to a new study by marketing group Core.

Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, was the most-watched programme on Irish television between January and June, securing 799,671 viewers for RTÉ2 on a Monday night in March.

Despite this ratings bonus and the return of the Six Nations rugby tournament in the spring, viewership to linear channels in the first half was well below where it was in the first half of 2020, and has also decreased compared with the same period in 2019.

Among adults, aged 15-plus, viewership is 5 per cent lower than it was in January-June 2019, Core’s latest media consumption report shows.

Television viewership among those aged 15-34 has faded to an even greater extent, falling 12 per cent year-on-year and running 13 per cent down on where it stood during the first half of 2019.

In the month of June 2021, which saw the start of the Euro 2020 tournament, this younger age group watched an average of one hour and nine minutes of live television a day, compared with an average of two hours and nine minutes among all adults aged 15-plus.

The figures highlight the challenge Irish broadcasters increasingly face in attracting viewers – especially younger viewers – to their linear television channels, on which they depend for advertising revenue.

On-demand shift

Streaming of broadcasters’ content remains higher than the averages seen pre-Covid, however, up 47-140 per cent depending on the player, Core said, reflecting the ongoing shift in the market to on-demand viewing.

Compared with the first half of 2020, when the unfolding health crisis prompted widespread workplace closures and advice to certain groups to “cocoon”, overall streams are only down 2 per cent.

“Given how different life was in 2020, particularly in the second quarter, this is a strong indicator that broadcaster streaming will continue to grow,” Core’s report states.

Within this marginal year-on-year decline in streaming, there were slips for RTÉ and Virgin Media Television and gains for Sky – led by demand for Jim Sheridan’s Murder at the Cottage – and Channel 4’s All 4. Virgin’s streaming volumes will have picked up in July and August courtesy of Love Island, with the sun-drenched show becoming its most streamed programme in June despite only starting its run on June 28th.

Consumption of news content, which drove the surge in live television viewing last spring, is another bright spot.

Although viewership of RTÉ News: Nine O’Clock in the first half was down 20 per cent compared with January-June 2020 and has tailed off since lockdown restrictions have eased, it was still up 9 per cent compared with the same period in 2019.

Most-watched TV

In the half-year linear ratings chart, CBS Presents Oprah with Meghan and Harry was followed by the RTÉ Six-One news, while the top 10 also featured four of Virgin Media One’s Six Nations games, The Late Late Show, RTÉ News: Nine O’Clock, and two episodes of RTÉ’s Reeling in the Years (2010 and 2011).

The much-hyped sit-down between British and American TV royalty has been overtaken since the end of June by ratings for matches in the later stages of Euro 2020, including the Italy-England final, which drew 938,000 viewers to RTÉ2.

Euro 2020 also delivered the biggest single-day online search term in the first half of 2021, with about 500,000 Irish searches counted for Christian Eriksen on June 12th after the Danish midfield player collapsed on the pitch mid-match.

Soaring rates of podcast listenership were another notable feature of the Irish media market in the first half, with Core quoting data from the platform Acast pointing to 37 per cent year-on-year growth.

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