Family TV viewing – thought to be disappearing with the rise of tablets and mobile phones – has returned as a result of the coronavirus crisis, a BBC boss has said.
Patrick Holland, controller of BBC Two, said people are watching shows together again.
He told the Edinburgh TV Festival: “The co-viewing numbers for our shows at the moment – we were talking to the audience people yesterday – are just phenomenal.
“People are sitting down and watching television with their families.
“Eighteen months ago, you’d have thought that the only viewing these days is done on your tablet, in a darkened room, on your own.”
His comments, made in a video interview, come after reports suggested that watching television had gone from being a communal to a solitary activity.
A Childwise report in 2018 said that “viewing has changed to become personal and private rather than a group activity gathered round a traditional television set”, and that “the era of fighting with your siblings over what to watch on TV is over”.
Mr Holland said “the crisis has reminded the audience just how powerful and meaningful public service broadcasting can be”.
He also said that quiz shows have been a huge hit since the nation went into lockdown – with University Challenge, hosted by Jeremy Paxman, a big draw.
“Quiz numbers have been bonkers in terms of the highest numbers for University Challenge for, I think, 10 years. Mastermind similarly”, he said of the long-running shows.
And he added: “If you look at the programmes that have been the hub, that the nation has gathered around over the last eight/10 weeks, that sense of familiarity, those programmes like University Challenge, Only Connect, Repair Shop – those shows that have got that sense of heart and purpose and familiarity are so important.”
While overall BBC viewing has increased since the crisis began, the “hunger” for news is not as high as it was at the beginning of pandemic, when it was “extraordinary”, he said.
“I think audiences have then started to pull away from news and wanted to immerse themselves in other forms of content.”
BBC entertainment boss Kate Phillips said the broadcaster is “looking very carefully” at airing Strictly Come Dancing in the autumn.
Asked about Strictly and The Apprentice spin-offs, Mr Holland said: “We don’t know what’s happening with Strictly yet.
“Obviously, we’ll take whatever the best advice is but there are lots of shows that we are discussing with, in terms of developing ideas.”
He said the popularity of travel show Race Across The World – the last four episodes of which were edited in lockdown – had “grown and grown and grown”.
There are another “two series waiting in the wings” but “we need to wait for the advice in terms of travel and social distancing”, Mr Holland said.
“Of course we love the series. It is an astonishing success … But the most important thing is everyone is safe with the making of that programme.”
Mr Holland spoke after the BBC told its staff that the corporation will have to make savings of £125 million this year after coronavirus affected its income.
He said: “We’re not immune to the effects of virus on the industry.
“We’re working through our budget … It’s not the case that we’re not going to be impacted by everything happening out there. Of course we will, but there are no announcements at the moment.”