How Coronavirus Might Have Changed TV Viewing Habits For Good

How Coronavirus Might Have Changed TV Viewing Habits For Good

As new social restrictions are imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19, it will be no surprise if people once again turn to their television screens for entertainment and companionship. In the UK, as the days turn darker and colder, popular shows including The Great British Bake Off and Strictly Come Dancing have made welcome returns, providing comfort and familiarity.

But along with the old favourites, our research shows how winter TV watching may be different this year. In May, we interviewed people about how COVID-19 was affecting their television watching. What we found helps to explain why TV viewing surged during lockdown and why streaming services including Netflix and YouTube are better placed than public service broadcasters such as the BBC to benefit from our changing habits.

When TV viewing went up overall during the spring lockdown, the greatest growth was in streaming services, while increased viewing for live TV was primarily driven by news consumption. After lockdown was relaxed, it was streaming that retained its uplift, while time spent watching broadcast TV gradually declined back to normal levels.

Coronavirus fundamentally changed people’s reasons for watching TV. Whereas before it was often associated with distraction and unwinding, the people we spoke to were rife with anxiety and turned to TV to relieve the stress of COVID-19. Television provided a sanctuary during lockdown for those seeking familiar and “safe” content which offered an escape from the worrying realities of the pandemic.

They valued companionship much more than before, regularly viewing at home with other members of their family. TV became more of a talking point – within the household and on social media – allowing a sense of connection with others. Online streaming services were particularly effective at fulfilling these needs – seen as safe spaces with content that everyone could enjoy.

By contrast, the strong association of public service broadcasting as the go-to source of trusted information made broadcast TV a less safe viewing space. Our participants discussed having to regulate their news consumption because of the emotional distress it caused.

This was exacerbated by a perception that the likes of BBC and ITV were unable to generate new content, ceasing production of beloved soap operas, dramas and sports coverage. These channels became synonymous with repeats and news, driving our participants to seek alternatives from streaming services.

This was a stark contrast to how participants felt about such channels just a year before. When we first interviewed them in the summer of 2019, most participants associated the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 with high-quality, unique content. Many were habitually engaging with free-to-air channels, keeping track of new releases and making time to enjoy new and plentiful series.

Participants regularly planned their evenings around what is known as “event” TV, placing publicly broadcast live television at the centre of their viewing schedules. However, during lockdown even the most committed viewers were exasperated with the limited offerings of the traditional channels. One 67-year-old woman lamented: “They’re all repeats!”.

Watch this space

This issue was amplified by an increased engagement with online streaming services during lockdown, where we noted a significant increase in use by viewers of all ages. Participants who had previously only dabbled with the likes of Netflix and YouTube suddenly found them essential.

Others who had never watched streamed programming were introduced to new material, often by their children, who signed them into their own accounts and gave them a crash-course in how streaming works.

One 54-year-old woman, who previously had little interest in television at all, was introduced to a wealth of Bollywood content available on Netflix by her adult children seeking content they could all enjoy and discuss. There were also participants who had previously become used to relying on their partners to find them content who were now browsing new and exciting content online.

Screen time is bonding time.Screen time is bonding time. Shutterstock/

As a result, public service broadcasters face new challenges as they try to entice people back from their online rivals. But as they gradually begin to produce and air new content – including regular favourites – it is likely that many viewers will happily resume their longstanding engagement with public service programming.

Yet whereas these public service channels were once the “go-to” – sometime the only – source of quality content for some, a whole new world of content has emerged, and the competition level is high. Our study shows that viewers place increasing value on TV content. They are less inclined to have the television switched on in the background or as a distraction, but instead are using it to fulfil emotionally charged needs.

This puts more pressure on the content to be deemed of “high quality”. The discovery of online streaming means dramatically increased choice. And the strong quality associations once almost solely connected to traditional channels are now shared with the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime. As more platforms and services vie for people’s prime-time viewing, a new found love for on-demand content could alter the audience’s engagement with television indefinitely – not just in lockdown.

About the Authors

Catherine Johnson, Professor in Media and Communication, University of Huddersfield and Lauren Dempsey, PhD Candidate, University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

You May Also Like




man and dog in front of giant sequoia trees in California
The Art of Constant Wonder: Thank you, Life, for this day
by Pierre Pradervand
One of the greatest secrets of life is to know how to constantly marvel at existence and at the…
Photo: Total Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017.
Horoscope: Week of November 29 - December 5, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
young boy looking through binoculars
The Power of Five: Five Weeks, Five Months, Five Years
by Shelly Tygielski
At times, we have to let go of what is to make room for what will be. Of course, the very idea of…
man eating fast food
It's Not About the Food: Overeating, Addictions, and Emotions
by Jude Bijou
What if I told you a new diet called the "It's Not About the Food" is gaining popularity and…
woman dancing in the middle of an empty highway with a city skyline in the background
Having the Courage to Be True to Ourselves
by Marie T. Russell,
Each one of us is a unique individual, and thus it seems to follow that each one of us has a…
Lunar eclipse through colored clouds. Howard Cohen, November 18, 2021, Gainesville, FL
Horoscope: Week of November 22 - 28, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
a young boy climbing to the top of a rock formation
A Positive Way Forward Is Possible Even in the Darkest Times
by Elliott Noble-Holt
Falling into a rut doesn’t mean we have to stay there. Even when it can seem like an insurmountable…
woman wearing a crown of flowers staring with an unwavering gaze
Hold That Unwavering Gaze! Lunar and Solar Eclipses November-December 2021
by Sarah Varcas
This second and final eclipse season of 2021 began on 5th November and features a lunar eclipse in…
Keep the Hope Alive in Your Heart and Make the World Loving Again
Keep Hope Alive in Your Heart and Make the World Loving Again
by Sarah Love McCoy
I've been holding back. I've been biting my tongue until I can process the current events and…
Hitching Our World To The Stars?
America: Hitching Our Wagon to the World and to the Stars
by Marie T Russell and Robert Jennings,
Well, the US presidential election is now behind us and it's time to take stock. We must find…
Daring To Take Action and Stepping Into The Unknown
Daring To Take Action and Stepping Into The Unknown
by Eileen Campbell
Realistic hope enables us to believe that we can cope with what lies ahead and gives us the courage…

Selected for InnerSelf Magazine


How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
by Jackie Cassell, Professor of Primary Care Epidemiology, Honorary Consultant in Public Health, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
The precarious economies of many traditional seaside towns have declined still further since the…
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
by Sonja Grace
As you experience being an earth angel, you will discover that the path of service is riddled with…
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
by Barbara Berger
One of the biggest things I've discovered working with clients everyday is how extremely difficult…
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
by Lucy Delap, University of Cambridge
The 1970s anti-sexist men’s movement had an infrastructure of magazines, conferences, men’s centres…
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
by Susan Campbell, Ph.D.
According to most of the singles I have met in my travels, the typical dating situation is fraught…
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
by Tracy Marks
Astrology is a powerful art, capable of enhancing our lives by enabling us to understand our own…
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
If you're waiting for a change and frustrated it's not happening, maybe it would be beneficial to…
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
by Glen Park
Flamenco dancing is a delight to watch. A good flamenco dancer exudes an exuberant self-confidence…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities | | | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.