How big are the changes in UK viewing habits that Netflix and Amazon are fostering? Torin Douglas investigates.
Have Netflix and Amazon Prime Video finally come of age as viewing platforms in the UK, thanks to the uber-hyped The Crown and The Grand Tour? How many people have watched these, the first two big British commissions by the streaming companies, and what impact are the video-streaming companies having on our viewing habits more generally?
With their huge budgets and endless press and online coverage, there is a lot riding on the return of Jeremy Clarkson and co, and the drama series about the young Queen Elizabeth.
Since neither company will share its viewing figures or UK subscription numbers, it is not easy to gauge their real impact, but we can try to sift the fact from the fiction.
If you believe the headlines, services such as Netflix are carrying all before them. But, while everyone agrees that viewing habits are changing – particularly among the young – the stalwarts of terrestrial television insist that the change is far less dramatic than the internet cheerleaders would have us believe.
“We are experiencing profound change, with new ways to watch, and new global providers of content,” says Jonathan Thompson, Chief Executive of Digital UK, which co-ordinates the Freeview DTT platform. “But it is really important that we separate rhetoric from reality and not get carried away with a Silicon Valley view of the future of broadcast TV.”
There has been a fog of hype surrounding both shows. In December, the Mail on Sunday reported that Clarkson’s The Grand Tour was the most illegally-downloaded TV show in history. The source was a piracy data firm called Muso.
The story was picked up by the Guardian, Independent, Daily Telegraph, Fortune and other media.
But Variety checked the details with Muso and squashed the claim. It said The Grand Tour may have had piracy problems but it “was not even close to being the most-pirated show over the last three weeks” – let alone ever. Similarly, when Netflix launched The Crown, the Times proclaimed: “Streaming upstarts seize traditional television’s crown. Britain is turning into a digital couch-potato economy, with four in five of us subscribing to at least one streaming service.”
Thompson publicly challenged this claim at Digital UK’s stakeholder conference: “The survey’s ‘four in five’ figure was for people subscribing to any type of service, not just streaming – gym membership, publications, software, music and so on,” he said. “It was commissioned by a company called Zuora, which runs a subscription management programme.”
The headline on Zuora’s press release was dramatic, echoing a theme repeatedly peddled by internet businesses: “Is broadcast dead? Half of Brits now rarely watch ‘normal TV’ due to Netflix and Amazon Video, finds consumer research.”
This assertion was contradicted by the release itself. It stated that a quarter of British consumers subscribed to video streaming services and almost half of these subscribers said they rarely watched “normal” TV.
“That’s 12% of the UK adult population,” the release declared. But 12% is not “half of Brits”. And, as rigorous researchers know, what people say in a survey can be very different to what they actually do.
So how do The Crown and The Grand Tour compare with the most popular series on “normal” TV, such as The Great British Bake Off, Strictly Come Dancing, and Planet Earth II? Their audiences can’t be compared directly, because Amazon and Netflix don’t publish figures or submit themselves to Barb’s strict rules, as broadcasters do – though Amazon has made an approach.
“We had an enquiry recently from a representative of Amazon about measuring audiences for The Grand Tour, but it came to nothing,” wrote Barb CEO Justin Sampson on its website. “I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.”
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