Weaver's Week 2020-05-17

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We're going to take a wander through Ratings Hell this week. Lots of graphs, lots of numbers, and some reflections on the strange world of telly this year.


Scheduling Matters

Back at the start of the year, we saw the interesting comment online:

"Can whoever succeeds Tony Hall at the BBC stop scheduling all three big quizzes back to back on Monday nights on BBC Two? I like a good quiz as much as the next man, but three in a row is too much and they'd do better spread across the week."

We could use a thousand words to argue our case, but sometimes it's just best to put up a graph.

Mastermind has proven markedly more popular on Monday nights (the red points) than it was on Friday (the blues). (Lines are the average of the last four episodes, and figures are in thousands of viewers.) BBC2 has commitments to live sport on Friday night – rugby for viewers in Wales, club football in Northern Ireland, and some networked sport. It's the only quiz in the schedule, and we never quite know whether it's on at 7.30, or 8, or later.

Quizzy Mondays provides consistency. Mastermind was on at 7.30 without exception, and people tuning in a little early for Only Connect will have caught on to this fact. While viewership last autumn flatlined and declined, the Monday slot has allowed Mastermind to arrest that decline, and reverse it.

The rest of Quizzy Mondays

When Mastermind moved to 8pm, it instantly added about a million viewers. That's the value of a good slot – 7.30 is less attractive, whether because Coronation Street is on the other side, or viewers are spending quality time with their families. At 8pm, there are fewer competing shows – Eastenders is only twice as popular as Only Connect, and ITV covers its current affairs remit. There's another Coronation Street at 8.30, but University Challenge is popular enough to hold its own.

This year, University Challenge (green) beat Only Connect (red) on only three nights, compared to nine wins for Victoria and her glyphs. The trendlines show all programmes picking up viewers as they near the final stages; in previous years, the biggest viewerships were in January or late autumn when nights are long.

Is BBC2 right to air all three quizzes back-to-back on one night? Personally, we'd prefer that they were spread across the week: 90 minutes of hard quizzing is too much even for us. But they tried to pair Only Connect with Mastermind on Friday nights a few years ago, and it simply didn't work. So it looks like the Monday triple bill is here to stay, it's what the viewers want.

Is Radio 4 right to air its intellectual quiz on Monday as well? Ah, now that could be looked at again: perhaps a swap to Tuesday would be in order, so that The Food Programme could nestle next to a cookery documentary.

Daytime stars

Which is more popular out of The Chase and Pointless? Daft question: The Chase is miles ahead. Back in January and February, when The Chase (green) showed new episodes, it averaged 4 million viewers per day. Pointless (blue), which was in repeats from mid-January until the end of March, sunk below 2.5 million – and would doubtless look even worse, except the data for many days in February and March is not in the public sphere.

A sudden shift to BBC2 has further sunk Pointless, cutting another million off its audience. Want to know why they stopped showing new episodes on BBC2? Not enough people were watching them.

House of Games (3) (red) had eased along all year at not quite 1.5 million viewers, and then they embarked on a short series of repeats. These repeats have continued, proving more popular than new episodes, lifting the viewership quite remarkably. And why not: these are new episodes to many viewers, for the rest of us they're reminders from two calendar years ago, which feels a lot longer.

While The Chase wobbled in March, thanks to horse racing and news specials, it's settled back in at a stable figure – perhaps a little down, but that's to be expected in April, as it's light outside and children can play after a busy day at school. Oh.

New radio ratings figures were released this week. Popmaster still has a smidgeon more than 3 million listeners on an average day, putting it midway between The Chase and Pointless when it was on BBC1.

Ant and Dec Rule

Saturday Night Takeaway came back in mid-February, with a stonking 8.7 million viewers. Slightly lower figures in the next two weeks, which is absolutely normal. A weird episode on 14 March rose back above 8 million, lots of people spent the night at home watching a crowd people in a small studio. Hope everyone's still fine.

The following week's episode was still in a small studio, but now with hardly anyone in it. Over 10 million people tuned in. Was it because the show featured Bradley Walsh from The Chase getting his comeuppance? Was it because Stephen Mulhern introduced the lads to In for a Penny? Because no-one in their right mind was going out? Probably the first, probably the last as well. Ant and Dec presented the last two shows from their homes, they mostly comprised clips from SNT history.

In for a Penny eked out the Saturday night audience for a few weeks, and though it only gets half of the Takeaway audience, it's got to be 95% cheaper. There's no expense spared on Got Talent, which returned the week after Takeaway finished. The first episode is the biggest game show of the year so far.

Other new shows

Our good friend Brig Bother has a notion: don't look too hard at the numbers, watch the trend. We're going to do that for three very different shows. Series 2 of Catchpoint aired on BBC1 Saturday nights, Beat the Chasers went out nightly on ITV, and Jon Snow's Very Hard Questions aired on More4 twice a night.

It's not fair to compare the raw numbers (7 million for Beat the Chasers, 170,000 for Very Hard Questions). We'll index the shows: the first regular programme to be transmitted gets an index of 100, and other episodes go up and down in line with the ratings.

Beat the Chasers opened strongly, lost around 10% after the first night, and stayed there. A flat trendline is generally held to be a success: many analysts expected the trend to be very clearly downwards.

Very Hard Questions opened weakly, with fewer viewers than the new Crackerjack. There wasn't much difference between the 8pm and 10pm episodes, but the trend was clear and downwards throughout the series. We don't expect another.

Catchpoint began its series with two celebrity episodes at around 8.30. The civilian series went out around 7pm, and turned into quite a decent hit. The trend was generally upwards, more people tuned in to Paddy McGuinness's light-hearted show.

Not pictured: ratings for Gods of the Game on Comedy Central, the show followed a similar trajectory to Catchpoint.

Other old shows

Countdown has been gently noodling along for years with about 400,000 viewers. With everyone forced to stay at home, and a lot of people rather stuck for stimulation after lunch, Countdown has been putting on the viewers. It's regularly made the published lists of Channel 4's most seen shows, and that hasn't happened since the Des O'Connor era.

And Schlag den Brig 3 last weekend averaged about 60 website viewers throughout the entire four-hour transmission. Sky's Artsworld channel puts out a lot of long shows with an average of 60 website viewers, and they add to the 40,000 on broadcast telly.

Boring legally bit: Data in this article has been sourced from 7-day consolidated ratings figures placed in the public sphere by BARB, Thinkbox, Digitalspy forums, and other sources. Graphs are constructed to enhance and clarify the points made in text. Radio ratings figures cited on air by Ken Bruce.

In other news...

Popmaster is going to take over Radio 2. The show-within-a-show will spread its wings across the whole station on holiday Monday next week. We're promised such star contestants as Ronan Keating from Eurovision 97, Zoe Ball from Live and Kicking, Greg James from the cricket, and the internet sensation Ball Thirty-Five. All of Radio 2's presenters – Dermot O'Leary, Claudia Winkleman, Scott Mills In The Afternoon, Sara Cox – will broadcast knockout heats for the one-day championship.

E4 will relive some of the most predictable Big Brother episodes this summer, to mark twenty years since the show first appeared. Davina McCall and Rylan Clark-Neal will introduce some of the most anthologised moments, and ignore all the good stuff that never quite fitted Endemol's narrative. We have only one question: surely the Big Brother audience has a natural home on old folk's channel More4?

With Brain taking an enforced break, Radio 4 has a new quiz: My Generation (Mon) has Stuart Maconie bringing up the line to your home, to quiz you about your greatest decade – and another one.

A new series of Monkman and Seagull's Genius Guide (BBC2, Mon), and Vic Reeves gets out his shears for The Big Flower Fight (Netflix, Mon).

FA Cup final next Saturday, so a late slot for Pointless Celebrities (BBC1), a sci-fi special with Sandra Dickinson and Sophie Aldred. Another chance to see In for a Penny in Leeds (ITV), we promise this is better than Madonna at the Eurovision Song Contest.

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