Those who think linear TV is dead might want to take a look at the past week on BBC One. A succession of popular programmes won healthy viewing figures.
The regional news at 6.30pm topped 5m across the network as a whole. Call the Midwife, Happy Valley, Silent Witness and Death in Paradise all made strong returns. The BBC News at One managed some 2.5m.
There were even a few signs of recovery for EastEnders which got above 3m in the overnights for the first time on a regular weekday for some time.
Perhaps most remarkably, The Apprentice returned with an audience bigger than last time round – after inheriting a good rating from Dragons’ Den. Both these programmes started out on BBC Two and didn’t originally seem like obvious candidates for moves to the main channel.
So what do they all have in common? All those programmes debuted on BBC One – they didn’t drop on the iPlayer earlier.
Fans of Happy Valley will have to wait until 9pm on Sunday for the next episode. Not that you’d know it from some of the promotional push for iPlayer – some of the time the main channel is not even being mentioned.
Well, of course, only luddites pretend the iPlayer is not becoming increasingly important. Who wouldn’t want to catch up on programmes they’ve missed or start the show at the beginning if they’ve tuned in late.
But how about this for a mixed economy? Shows dropping on the iPlayer as they “drop“ on BBC One.
If the revival of Waterloo Road is a success, that’s exactly how you could market the scheduling to its young fans. New episodes at 8pm on Tuesdays either on iPlayer or BBC One.
All this is a reminder of why major linear channels are so important – they focus on live and quality, original content and have the potential to make a real impact.
Even the immediate ratings for Harry and Meghan’s interviews on Netflix in the UK were modest compared to those of many BBC One and ITV 1 shows even if the repercussions of these programmes were huge.
Remind me of the cost of Netflix or Amazon Prime against the cost of a TV licence?
There is an important distinction to be drawn between whether major linear channels have a future and whether, say, Freeview or satellite remain as methods of distribution.
Presentation has a role in this too. Live continuity done well adds to the sense of occasion and reminds viewers they are not alone. They remind the viewer the channel they are watching is the living product of a lot of talented, creative people – not a server loaded up with 6 episodes of a 1990s comedy.
It will be interesting to see if a “thinning out” of minor linear channels actually reinforces the positions of the major players.
This week saw the disappearance of the Smithsonian Channel. No doubt more will follow before BBC Four becomes a streaming service in the next 18 months or so.
Perhaps the recovery from the Covid pandemic is likely to help the big channels too.
TV production was badly affected by Covid restrictions. It led to shorter episodes, shorter series and fewer programmes of outstanding note.
The lead-in times for some programmes and the gradual resumption of normal working after legal restrictions ended means it took some time to get the supply of new programmes fully back to normal.
It’s time to celebrate the importance of the big linear channels properly and stop taking them for granted.
PICTURED: TV and remote control. COPYRIGHT: Radio Times.