Key takeaways

  • Free-to-air TV audience figures appear to be in decline.
  • Younger viewers are driving the appetite for on-demand TV.
  • Market responds with innovative new entertainment formats.

Official viewing figures show that audiences for traditional free-to-air television in Australia have decreased.

As TV ratings drop, the younger market is being named as the driver for innovative new formats for entertainment offerings.

The official source of ratings for Australia’s five metropolitan markets, OzTAM’s latest results reveal 6% fewer viewers of commercial, metropolitan, free-to-air TV during the evening. This is one of the biggest drops on record for that slot (6pm to midnight), measured across a seven-week period.

TV industry executives responded to the news in an article published by the Australian Financial Review (AFR) by highlighting that 24-hour viewing across all television platforms is only down by 2.9%. They argued that the numbers could be skewed by viewers spending more time on networks’ other platforms – such as catch-up services – but that overall, TV is still the preferred medium for entertainment.

The level of disruption faced by the TV industry is still under debate, but with streaming services such as Foxtel’s Presto, Fairfax/Nine Network’s Stan and Netflix all having launched in Australia this year, there is no doubt that the viewing landscape has become a much more heterogeneous place and that habits are diversifying.

On demand, on any device

The launch of streaming services does not just confront the traditional ‘linear’ TV format by allowing users to select what they want to watch, when they want it.

These new services broaden the offering to almost any device. Viewing doesn’t have to be restricted to a TV or computer screen. Content is available in almost any format: phones, tablets, TVs and even (for most of the providers) video game consoles.

When watching a particular show, viewers don’t necessarily have to remain faithful to one screen. With Netflix, for example, you can start watching a show on one device, pause, then continue to watch it on another device entirely.

Younger market breaking boundaries

PwC statistics show that the younger market is perhaps the biggest driver of these changes, preferring on-demand TV to linear formats.

Data compiled for The Australian Entertainment & Media Outlook report demonstrates a continuing trend that younger viewers “don’t like to be told what to watch and in what order,” says Megan Brownlow, executive director at PwC and editor of the report.

“They are also not as wedded to professionally produced content as previous generations and they are quite happy to watch it on a small screen too,” she added in comments to the AFR.

Moving to small screen

In response to this trend, filmmakers are experimenting with new formats of shows aimed squarely at younger viewers.

Photo messaging service Snapchat claims to have around 100 million active users of whom 60% are aged 18-24, making it the most popular social network for younger users. The remarkable thing about Snapchat messages is that they disappear from your smartphone a few seconds after viewing.

Now, there is a TV series airing on the social media site. Literally Can’t Even – written by Sasha Spielberg and Emily Goldwyn, daughters of filmmakers Steven Spielberg and John Goldwyn – consists of episodes less than five minutes long, which ‘expire’ from Snapchat 24 hours after release.

US telecommunications company AT&T announced in January that it, too, wants to launch a TV series on the platform. SnapperHero, a story about superheroes, will consist of 12 episodes, each about three minutes long, that also expire within a day.

Taking video to its audience

The BBC is one of the world’s major broadcasters responding to shifting habits among younger viewers.  It has already moved BBC Three – its channel aimed at a young adult audience – to internet-only.

At the time, BBC Three Controller Damien Kavanagh said: “Freed from the linear schedule, new BBC Three would be able to make content younger audiences tell us they want. […] We would be able do this faster, get it out quicker, and let our audiences know where it is in new ways. We would make content for the places they are, on Snapchat and What’s App, on Tumblr and Facebook, on Twitter and YouTube.”

Statistics back up the understanding that younger users show a much greater preference for their smartphone than other devices, including tablet. They are also part of a demographic that is well used to receiving content faster and in a more tailored and bite-sized fashion.

Knowing this, broadcasters are being increasingly innovative in their approach – and part of this approach is treating the small screen as a worthy counterpart to the big.



Nick Spooner

Nick Spooner is a partner at PwC and the leader of PwC Digital Services Experience Centre across South East Asia and Australia.

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