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Lockdown TV

Introduction

The things that we took for granted just months ago, such as travel, eating out, shopping trips – even sending our kids to school and seeing our friends and family - have been temporarily halted. Our houses are not only our homes, but our offices, schools and the hub of our ‘social’ lives. But, without the daily commutes and hectic schedules, we’re being allowed to slow down, finding more time to spend together as families and finding new ways to keep in touch and share experiences virtually with friends and loved ones that are further afield.

From a media perspective, the effects of lockdown have already been profound. The volume of TV viewing has jumped significantly (22% since lockdown began, according to BARB) and production of – and demand for – certain genres has changed dramatically.

To help us understand these changes, Thinkbox commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct a new real-time study following 12 households across the UK as their routines, needs and viewing habits change week by week. 

Throughout lockdown, we'll be releasing new waves of findings and adding them to this page each week. 

Our latest update - released on Thursday 28th May - is Wave 6 below.

Methodology

  • Digital ‘deep dives’ into the lives of 12 participants over 10-12 weeks.    
  • The participants are split into three key groups:
    - Those forced to work from home because of the lockdown
    - Parents with school-aged children
    - Those now unable to work as a direct result of the virus
  • 2 x 3 day ‘immersion communities’ towards the start and end of the project.
  • A series of check-ins over the fieldwork period with participants filming video diaries around topical questions.

Top-line findings

Wave 1 - 23 April

  1. TV unites households, enables new routines and provides a valued source of comfort during these times of crisis.
  2. The importance of TV news cannot be over-stated.  It is a highly valued and trusted source of information, particularly during lockdown, although our relationship with news is changing.

Wave 2 - 30 April

  1. Consumers have an increased level of consciousness regarding their shopping habits.
  2. Brands that are contextually relevant to the current situation are winning out (for now).

Wave 3 - 6 May

  1. There is an increasing appetite for more variation in TV creative, as long as brands are sensitive to the current context.
  2. There are clear ways that brands can maximise budgets whilst staying contextually relevant
  3. TV is still a key source of comfort and a valued facilitator of family time

Wave 4 - 14 May

  1. Consumers are excited about life beyond lockdown, but brands have a duty of care - trust and transparency are key
  2. There’s a real opportunity for brands to connect with consumers over the things that matter most.

Wave 5 - 21 May

  1. With more time to watch, viewers are delving into new content and VOD provides the perfect place to explore, catch up and binge.
  2. During lockdown, VOD provides a platform for viewers to live vicariously.

Wave 6 - 28 May

  1. As we leave lockdown, there will inevitably be less time for TV.  But some habits, particularly shared family viewing, are likely to stick.

In-depth findings - Wave 1

Shared viewing and the comfort of new routines


Uniting households and families

TV has always played a crucial part in bringing households together and that role has been amplified significantly since the start of lockdown.  More than ever, TV is providing a valued shared experience; indeed, BARB data shows that shared TV viewing has grown by 37% since lockdown began, versus a 15% increase in watching TV alone.

Programmes that have seen significant jumps in shared family viewing include Channel 4’s Gogglebox (up 41%), In for a Penny on ITV (up 47%) and Wild Britain on Five (up 19%).

This is important not just within households, but beyond too.  As our outer lives shrink, the need to find points of connection, conversation and commonality with people beyond our homes is growing.  TV provides those common points of reference in spades.

Creating new routines

In addition, for households that previously led quite separate lives, TV is bringing individuals together during lockdown and helping them develop a new, shared routine.  From a couple who have a movie night each evening for the first time ever, to families revisiting classic comedies in the evening, to a dad who watches daily cookery shows with his kids before taking their inspiration into the kitchen, TV is providing an appreciated anchor for this new way of living.

For those that live alone, TV offers an equally valued way of structuring the day and providing company and distraction during a difficult time.

Comfort and creativity in compromise

As households are forced together during lockdown, the appetite for viewing that promotes togetherness has naturally increased.  Families are exploring and choosing content that has universal appeal for all household members.  Comedy such as Friends or light entertainment like Saturday Night Takeaway were notable examples.  Many households are also exploring content they wouldn’t usually have watched before, such as drama they missed the first time round, cookery shows or new recommendations from friends.

Interestingly, parents are also introducing content to their kids that they enjoyed when they were younger.  This includes the mum who inspired her teenaged daughter to watch the Twilight series so they could watch the films together, and the parent of young kids who introduced them to the film Goosebumps.  For parents in particular, many of whom are now expected to work, parent and teach at the same time, the importance of TV, and the bonding opportunity it provides, is increasingly treasured and appreciated.

The need for nostalgia

Nostalgic viewing has seen a resurgence since lockdown.  The respondents talked at length about the need to ‘escape from reality’ through light-hearted TV programming that takes them back to happier times.  One couple mentioned binge watching re-runs of Goodnight Sweetheart, for example.  This has been reflected in the viewing numbers.  Since the start of lockdown, for example, viewing of Only Fools and Horses on Gold is up 20% since last year and Last of the Summer Wine on Drama is up 30% versus 2019.

For sports fans in particular, who are having to fill a significant void in their TV diet, classic matches on Sky and BT Sport are helping to plug the gap and raise the spirits.

News junkies and the news blues


Newfound news junkies

It’s no surprise that the importance of TV news has rocketed since the COVID-19 crisis began. Viewing of TV news content increased by 124% during the first three weeks of lockdown, according to BARB.   For many people the news - particularly the daily government briefings - have become appointment-to-view staples that feed into their new household routines.

And TV is very much seen as a credible, trusted news source with integrity.   Whilst many participants mentioned checking social media regularly during lockdown, most were mistrustful of news on social media platforms.  This mistrust has been heightened by the publicity surrounding the large quantity of fake COVID-19 news on social media since the start of the crisis.

The first-hand nature of TV news was very much valued by participants.  One respondent summarised the sentiment by saying that she wanted to see expert opinion “straight from the horse’s mouth” as the viability of news in the current climate is more important than ever before.  Another working professional mentioned that she’d seen so much news on social media “that turned out not be factual” that she didn’t “waste” her time with it any longer.  Viewers have a long and trusted relationship with TV news which was seen as a journalistic pinnacle for many.

The news and the blues

In spite of the surging demand for news, staying informed about the current crisis is increasingly seen as a ‘necessary evil’.  Although we want more of it, it’s inevitably creating a heightened state of anxiety for many – with parents particularly conscious of how this may be impacting their kids’ wellbeing and mental health.

In a bid to combat that anxiety, participants are increasingly ‘windowing’ their news consumption.  By tuning in at certain times of the day, such as early morning or for the government briefings, they hope to limit the negative impact that the news may have on their mood.  Others are leaning towards other more digestible topical formats such as Good Morning Britain and This Morning, that cover the news with integrity, but offer a level of entertainment at the same time.

As we move into the next phase of lockdown, we expect to see news routines start to settle.

In-depth findings - Wave 2

A higher state of consciousness and experimentation

Unsurprisingly, lockdown is changing our buying behaviour. The luxury of choice has shrunk for most, and local shops and small business are plugging the gaps.  We’ve seen stock availability and the speed of delivery overriding brand preferences in many of our households – and this is seen as an acceptable trade-off given the circumstances.

Some even mentioned that their new choices of brand or retailer were likely to stick once lockdown is lifted, highlighting the bizarre opportunity that this crisis could bring for brands that are able to weather the storm and continue advertising (as supported here by Richard Shotton).

However, conscious changes in behaviour were also mentioned.  Households discussed supporting local or small business owners, such as one woman who stared shopping at Etsy to keep more small business afloat. These choices are built on an emotive connection and a willingness to support those that need it, which is surely a positive aspect of this crisis.

Contextually relevant wins out (for now)


The brands that are noticed and appreciated during this phase of lockdown are those that are either acknowledging or reflecting the current situation in their TV ads; Tesco, Aldi, Currys PC World and EE were notable examples.

There seems to be an increased appetite for relatable content - a desire to see real people and real situations mirrored through TV ads, and for brands to show that they are ‘doing the right thing’. This highlights both the enhanced consciousness in buying behaviour during lockdown and the increased need for comfort, that is driving much TV viewing.

It will be fascinating to see how this develops as lockdown progresses.

In-depth findings - Wave 3

There is an increasing appetite for more variation in TV creative

After six weeks of lockdown, it’s clear that an appetite for ‘lighter’ ads is starting to emerge.  The sensitive and reflective tone taken by many advertisers in their TV creative so far has been appreciated.  Viewers have welcomed brands’ efforts to reassure them and highlight their social responsibility, but there now appears to be room for variation as we enter the latter stages of lockdown.  Several participants mentioned that many from the initial wave of COVID ads were becoming less distinguishable from one another, and that brands needed to work hard to stand out.  They also discussed how they’d appreciate some ‘light relief’ in TV creative, as long as it is done responsibly.

There are clear ways that brands can maximise creativity whilst staying contextually relevant


As we continue to sail through the unchartered waters of lockdown, it’s clear that viewers are far more attuned to seeing ads that reflect real people and situations – even if they are craving a bit of light-heartedness.

Although overt selling is viewed as less tasteful by our viewers, unless relevant to the current situation, there is a strong opportunity for brand building.  This is especially true for advertisers who can tap into the viewer need for human connection, or highlight ways in which people can productively distract themselves from the situation (e.g. creative ideas for the home).

Participants were open to ‘cheaper’ creative formats such as self-filmed ads or re-runs of old favourites – as long as they remain culturally relevant today. This is positive news when production budgets and capabilities have taken such a severe hit. As production budgets and capabilities are inevitably reduced, this is positive news. 

TV is still a key source of comfort and a valued facilitator of family time


TV is as valued now for regulating mood and reducing anxiety as it was at the start of lockdown.  It’s also cherished facilitator of family time, which for many, has been one of the biggest benefits to the current situation.

In-depth findings - Wave 4

Consumers are excited about life beyond lockdown, but brands have a duty of care - trust and transparency are key


As excitement around life beyond lockdown emerges, it’s evident that our participants have a new appreciation of the smaller things in life – time spent with friends and family, summer BBQs, days out.  Given there is still much apprehension about what life after lockdown will look like, future plans tend to be small-scale, for now.

There is still a lot of apprehension about ‘getting back to normal’ and when it comes to brands.  People need reassurance that advertisers have considered their safety and put the necessary precautions in place.  B&Q and McDonalds were mentioned as examples of brands who have set the right tone in their TV ads.

Viewers expect a duty of care from advertisers, and given the level of trust that viewers inherently have in TV - and the integral role it has played during this crisis - TV advertising is the natural platform through which to highlight this.

There’s an emerging opportunity for brands to connect with consumers over the things that matter most

The first hug with Mum, the first BBQ with friends, the first Sunday lunch with our families... Lockdown has given us perspective on what’s important to us, and for our families, this was overwhelmingly human relationships and social contact. Digital connections have bridged a gap but there’s nothing like physical contact, and inevitably, this is what many people are craving the most.

By following the trajectory we’ve seen so far, once advertisers have conveyed their duty of care to their customers, it’s likely that viewers will want something more from brands.  Creatively, the appetite for brands to connect with consumers through heart-felt, uplifting, human stories has never been more voracious.

In-depth findings - Wave 5

With more time to watch, BVOD and SVOD provides the perfect place to explore, catch up and binge.


Although BVOD and SVOD satisfy the same needs as broadcast TV (with comfort and escape key during lockdown), the difference is VOD is bingeable and viewers are taking full advantage!  This is reflected in the numbers with BVOD viewing up 45% year on year during the period of lockdown.

Lockdown has provided an opportunity for viewers to try on-demand services that previously weren’t on their radars – and integrate them into their new TV repertoires.  From undiscovered content, such as drama or classic comedies like Peep Show, to saving favourite programmes for an hour of indulgence when housemates are in bed, VOD is undeniably playing a more significant role in our TV lives since lockdown.

VOD provides a platform for viewers to live vicariously 

Interestingly, as our lives since lockdown have shrunk, VOD is being used as a way of staying connected to the aspects of life that viewers love – but remain tantalisingly out of reach.  Participants are vicariously living their big dreams through the small screen.  Shows such as Escape to the Chateau, Race Around the World and SAS: Who Dares Wins fulfil the appetite for action, adventure and travel.

In-depth findings - Wave 6

As we leave lockdown, there will inevitably be less time for TV.  But some habits, particularly shared family viewing, are likely to stick.


The luxury of time has meant that viewers have not only consumed more TV content, but they’ve discovered new types of programming, services and ways of viewing that they’d have never considered before.  Much of this has been driven by the need to find content that suits the whole family rather than individual needs. 

The increased opportunity for bonding time around the TV is something that our participants have thoroughly enjoyed. They’ve rediscovered the simple pleasure of just relaxing together in front of TV programmes they all love.  Many cited this as a habit that would stick once lockdown comes to an end.

Implications and opportunities for advertisers

  • There is a real opportunity for advertisers to ride the wave of togetherness that TV is providing – and will continue to provide after lockdown. Shared viewing can heighten emotional engagement and is a major facilitator of brand conversations, both off and online.  Ads that are talked about are more likely to generate fame, which was shown by Binet and Field in The Long and Short of It to outperform all other business metrics.
  • The value placed on Broadcaster VOD has increased alongside TV viewing.  As viewers have more time to delve into and binge watch content, there is an opportunity for advertisers to take advantage of the prime – and trusted- advertising real estate that the format offers.
  • Viewers are tentatively starting to think about life post-lockdown, and are highly aware of the duty of care that advertisers have to their consumers.  Once this has been demonstrated, there is a great opportunity for brands to connect through heartfelt, uplifting, human stories.
  • As lockdown progresses, there is a real opportunity for advertisers to provide some light relief.  Audiences are receptive to ‘cheaper’ production methods - such as self-filming or running classic ads - as long as brand tap into existing needs (such as the need for connection, comfort or distraction) and remain sensitive to the current situation.
  • The COVID crisis is shaking up buying behaviours, many of which have been entrenched for years. For those able to invest, TV advertising provides an opportunity to build new or enhanced brand relationships that may last well beyond lockdown.
  • Viewers are watching content together that inspires ‘doing’ – cooking, crafting, exercise – genres of content that they hadn’t considered before. Brands fitting these categories have an opportunity to build contextual brand awareness through advertising.
  • Many are spending evenings watching films with their family, planning ads around family classics or nostalgic content during this time could deliver high returns.
  • TV is not only a source of comfort at the moment, but also trust and truthfulness. While viewers are looking for reliability, this is a great opportunity to build a relationship with consumers and form brand loyalty. Advertisers should make sure they’re authentic, contextual, and respectful to the situation.
  • Sports fans are looking for a replacement. While classic games are filling a void, big TV events are being produced to simulate the atmosphere of a sport event, and tongue-in-cheek content is emerging to open up placeholder genres or hobbies to a wider audience - all of which could allow for some clever sponsorship opportunities.

In summary

  • Lockdown has instigated many new TV habits and routines and diversified the content viewers watch.  TV programming has also brought families together, which is something that is likely to stick once the restrictions come to an end.
  • Lockdown has provided an opportunity for viewers to explore BVOD platforms that were previously off their radar and integrate them into their viewing repertoires.  This is good news for advertisers looking for prime, trusted and targeted advertising opportunities.
  • Viewers are starting to look forwards, albeit tentatively, but lockdown has highlighted the importance of, and appetite for, human contact and relationships.  As long as brands remain sensitive to their duty of care, there is an appetite for creative that taps into these much-anticipated real-life moments.
  • The COVID crisis has changed our relationship with TV creative.  As lockdown progresses, there’s an increasing desire for humour and distraction, and advertisers have license to incorporate cheaper production methods - as long as they demonstrate a ‘duty of care’ to their audience. 
  • Lockdown has created major shifts in both viewing and buying behaviour. There is a heightened state of consumer consciousness and a greater demand to see real people and situations reflected in TV ads.
  • We’re living through unprecedented times and TV is providing a source of comfort and commonality with those around us - both in our households and beyond - and an important means of creating structure within our new, lockdown lives.
  • TV news is as especially important as the appetite for up-to-date, reliable and trusted information increases.  Although the ‘news blues’ is becoming an issue for some, TV news bulletins enable viewers to manage their exposure more effectively.  Meanwhile the wealth of entertaining TV content in the UK provides some much-needed light relief.

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