I decided to split the night into three ‘zones’. Early evening (17:00 – 19:00) prime time (19:00 – 21:00) and post watershed (21:00 onwards) see appendix 1. The reason for this is that these are distinct periods with distinct audiences. It is not possible to compare Blue Peter at 17:00 with Film 2002 at 23:00, as the target audience will be completely different. Looking at the first two programmes in the early evening slot shows a difference in the strategies of the channels. At 17:00 BBC shows Blue Peter, whilst ITV broadcasts a repeat of Airline.
Two very different programmes aimed at different audiences. ITV chooses 17:00 to start leaving it’s child audience and start concentrating on the adult population. The programme before Airline was ‘My Parents are Aliens’ a children’s comedy/drama. The adverts between My Parents are Aliens and Airline show that ITV still expect to have some children watching for example an advert for ‘Diva Stars’ a series of dolls. ITV then shows a repeat – significant because it shows ITV are not prepared to spend money on creating original programming for this slot.
The shift in expected audience is shown in the advertisements in the middle of Airline. They include adverts for nicotine patches – a definite adult product. The BBC on the other hand decide to hang on to their young audience for another half hour showing Blue Peter and Newsround until 17:30. This may be because of ITV’s decision to stop children’s programming at 17:00. Another possible explanation is the BBC’s obligation to provide a set amount of programming for younger audiences.
There is also the fact that Blue Peter slot of 17:00 is ‘traditional’ for it’s entire history it has occupied this slot, which could effect ITV’s decision not to go into direct competition with it by choosing a different target audience. Following Newsround is a plug for BBC’s new children’s channel CBBC and an advert for GCSE bitesize revision. The following programmes on both channels definitely act as buffers between the different age audiences. Crossroads on ITV and Neighbours on BBC are both fairly ‘soft’ soap operas, they do not have the hard-hitting impact of Eastenders for example.
Neither of these soaps has particularly high viewing figures either. There should be no noticeable loss in viewers for either soap by placing them head to head. Crossroads is followed directly by a trailer for the next day’s This Morning programme; this could indicate similar viewers for the two shows – housewives and students. The next hour on both channels is devoted to News, local and national. This marks a definite move away from anything associated with children’s programming. Despite accusations of ‘dumbing down’ the news, it will be an extra-ordinary child who watches the main news broadcast voluntarily.
ITV places it’s local news first, a point to note is a trailer for Family Values after the local news has finished. Family values is another regional programme, the reasoning behind this could be that someone interested in local news could be interested in the lives of local people. The decision by ITV to play the local news first could be because they don’t want to go into direct competition with the BBC national news which had 6. 6 million viewers on 23rd February, almost as much as ITV’s prime time drama The Jury (6. 8 million) (Heat issue 159, page 46.)
Moving into the primetime area sees a run of major soap operas. It is possible to watch an hour and a half of back-to-back soaps, 19:00 – 20:00 on ITV then 20:00 – 20:30 on BBC. The viewing figures of Eastenders and Coronation Street are particularly impressive, the BBC gets on average 15. 6 million viewers and ITV 13. 1 million (Heat issue 159, page 46. ) Based on BARBS figures for television ownership (http://www. barb. co. uk/TVFACTS. cfm? fullstory=true&newsid=13) the two major soaps get about 60% of the television owning population.
This is important for both the channels, ITV can justify selling the advertising space more expensively, and the BBC can justify its licence fee. If the two soap operas were to go head-to-head, there would be a reduction in viewing figures for one or the other (the combined viewing figures for the two programmes comes to more people than own televisions) therefore there must be a large percentage of people who watch both, the channels do not want to run the risk of losing large swathes of their viewers to the other channel.
Both ITV and the BBC have obviously recognised the pulling power of each other’s main soap operas. BBC screen Hard Cash while Coronation Street is on and ITV show Tonight with Trevor McDonald whilst Eastenders is being broadcast. There is a large contrast between the soap opera and it’s time slot opposite in each case. Both programmes are current affairs/news based. It is possible the channels have pitched their soap alternative in a similar vein hoping to attract the non-soap viewing audience alienated during this period.