Christmas and TV: what you need to know

Christmas and TV go together like port and Stilton, turkey and stuffing, or a nut roast and disappointment.

But what exactly does Christmas mean to TV – and what does TV mean to Christmas? You might not be asking these questions, but we have answers nonetheless…

Do we watch more TV at Christmas?

TV is incredibly important at Christmas, a part of its tinselly fabric. And at Christmas – indeed whenever we spend more time at home (like during lockdown) – TV viewing always gets a boost.

For example, in 2020 the average time spent watching broadcaster TV on Christmas Day was 3 hours, 41 minutes, well above the daily average across the year of 3 hours, 12 minutes (and that was a year that had lockdowns boosting viewing).

Have festive viewing habits changed?

TV viewing in general has transformed in recent years, so it would be a little weird if Christmas viewing hadn’t done the same. We have more choice, better technology, and we spread our viewing across on demand and live.

For example, we watch more time-shifted TV on Christmas Day than we used to: 14% of Christmas Day viewing in 2020 was time-shifted compared with only 7% in 2010.

BARB’s new data on video shows that two thirds (67.6%) of our viewing time is now spent with broadcaster TV (mainly live), the other third is shared roughly between SVOD (14.9%) and video sharing (17.8%). So we can expect a similar pattern at Christmas.

But much of this is extra video viewing, rather than just a replacement for broadcaster TV. On Christmas Day 2010, 68% of people watched broadcaster TV. In 2020 it was 67%, so no real change over time.

TV broadcasters are agnostic about how people watch their stuff, however, and have adapted to make their shows available to people however and whenever they want to watch them (have a look at some Christmas TV highlights here).

Do we watch more together at Christmas?

Yes we do. While our choice and technology have transformed, humans have not, and our love of shared viewing is a big part of Christmas.

In fact there is triple the amount of shared viewing on Christmas Day compared with the rest of the year.  Groups of three or more watching live TV together accounted for 26% of all live TV viewing on Christmas Day 2020. Across the whole year it averaged 8%.

Shared viewing doesn’t have to be live of course; most on-demand viewing happens on the TV set now and so is increasingly likely to be watched in company (we just don’t have comprehensive data on that…yet).

Do we all gather round the same shows on Christmas Day?

We do and we don’t; the reality of how we watch TV now has changed things. With so much choice, rather than a few TV shows getting enormous live audiences, we now have more shows attracting big audiences.

On Christmas Day 2010, 12 programmes delivered audiences of over 5 million and 28 programmes delivered audiences between 1-5 million. On Christmas Day 2020, 7 programmes delivered 5 million+ but 38 programmes attracted between 1-5 million.

TV still provides those national, cultural moments when we come together. But greater choice provides countless and no less important moments for smaller audiences This is true all year round. TV is not just for Christmas.

How important is Christmas ad revenue to TV broadcasters?

All ad revenue has been crucial this year – and TV advertising has seen resurgent investment.

Part of this is the short-term bounce back from 2020. But it is also part of a longer-term trend, driven by two things: online-born business turning to TV to drive growth and established advertisers rediscovering TV advertising and increasing their investment.

Pre-Christmas is a crucial time of year to TV’s customers – especially retailers, who generate a lot of their revenue at Christmas and trust TV to deliver the huge audiences they need to drive sales.

We expect Q4 investment in TV to have been significant. To give an indication, the AA forecasts that £7.9 billion will be spent on Christmas advertising in 2021, a billion more than 2020 – and TV remains the cornerstone of Christmas advertising. Have a look at some of the great ads from this year here.

Merry Christmas!

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