The past fortnight have been a wake up call to those confidently predicting the demise of linear TV.
The impact of Mr Bates vs The Post Office powerfully demonstrated just what mainstream linear TV can achieve.
This week has also shown that there’s life in the old dog, only this time it was in a quite different but equally unexpected way.
The Traitors had been an iPlayer success until now.
Its overnight ratings had never been spectacular but the programme itself had been gaining a loyal, indeed passionate, following and the overall audience figures once catch up viewing was included were strong.
This week though, the overnight ratings shot up.
3.8 – 3.9m people watched this week’s three episodes on BBC One – beating the two big ITV 1 soaps. The linear audience on Friday had almost doubled in a week.
The only programmes to outrate The Traitors on the three evenings it was broadcast were the BBC News at Six and the BBC Regional News.
It was remarkable. Were new viewers tuning in to see what the fuss was about? Were fans attracted by the prospect of watching along with others on a major channel?
It would not surprise me if the overnight ratings go up further over the next fortnight.
Then on Saturday, came a real shock.
Nobody would have expected the return of Gladiators to get 6m viewers. This helped Michael McIntyre’s Big Show to a strong 4.9m.
By no account could either be called event TV, a special treat, a watercooler moment or any other such phrase.
They are simply good, old-fashioned, professionally made family shows. Entertaining programmes which families can enjoy together at teatime on Saturdays.
They are the kind of programmes certain people of a slightly pretentious nature would not admit to watching or see as a guilty pleasure.
Yes, imagine this phenomenon: the family audience watching together – something the futurologists really don’t like talking about – even though Strictly shows the demand for this kind of entertainment every week through the autumn.
By the way, the extensions to Breakfast and Morning Live seem to have slightly boosted mid-morning audiences.
In all these positive takes of linear TV, there seems to be a very basic lesson to take forward.
- Make a good programme which you think will work for the audience.
- Schedule it well.
- Promote it properly.
Then if there’s momentum, the audience may build as people tell their friends about it.
I hope I am not sounding like King Canute. I love on demand services too. I know all too well that some people rarely watch linear and I am sure the number of small linear channels will continue to decline.
But the big channels are very definitely not in danger in the foreseeable future.
Indeed it is worth questioning the motivation of those who might want them to be weakened?
Are they simply looking at how best to deliver the audiences some advertisers are trying to reach?
Or do some of them have problems with the more serious side of the major public service broadcasters? The important work journalists, documentary makers and dramatists do in holding the powerful to account or highlighting society’s ills.
PICTURED: Gladiators opening titles. COPYRIGHT: BBC.