Fair weather is not TV’s friend

It was January 1989, I was 9 years old and it was cold (the average temperature that January was 5.8 degrees Celsius). Playing with my Christmas presents – the ThunderCats ‘Cat’s Lair’ I think – I had no idea that miles away there was a mysterious organisation called BARB and that it was publishing an analysis of how the weather affects television viewing (it was titled ‘How the weather affects television viewing’ - you’ll need to subscribe to Warc to read it I’m afraid).

Little did I know back then the role that BARB would come to play in my life. For now I research TV and with all the marvellous weather we’ve been enjoying recently, I thought another look at how – to borrow a phrase – the weather affects television viewing might be interesting. Especially given how much TV has evolved over the last three decades.

Good weather is good news for our tans but not so for our telly. For when the sun is shining people – not unreasonably I admit – stay indoors less and so watch less TV. Ofcom also noted this in its recent Communications Market Report. Thankfully though people can take telly with them outdoors these days, but we don’t yet have figures to show if sunshine leads to more mobile TV viewing. I would guess it might.

But we do have figures to show that sunshine leads to less TV set viewing, and the fact that this year has seen such lovely weather is one of the reasons why linear TV viewing has been a bit lower. The chart below plots average monthly temperatures against TV viewing:
TV and average temperatures

As you can see, there’s a pretty clear relationship, although I offer this with a caveat as Thinkbox is always at great pains to point out the distinction between correlation and causality. We know umbrellas don’t cause rain, but there is a strong correlation between their use and it raining. This chart is a correlation, although common sense suggests that watching less TV doesn’t make it warmer, whereas it being warmer might make you watch less TV.

Of course the weather is not the only thing that influences how much linear TV we watch; there are many other factors which affect it, such as digital switchover and the host of new channels it gave people, which increased it, and on-demand viewing, which is probably replacing a tiny bit of it.

And there is also another form of climate which has an influence: the economic climate. Last month, GfK NOP’s UK Consumer Confidence Index nudged into a positive figure for the first time in nine years. Things are on the up and this is obviously fantastic news for the nation and fantastic news for advertisers as they are advertising to audiences who are better equipped to spend. But it isn’t such fantastic news for TV viewing levels because when people have more money in their pockets they go out more. In the mood for charts, I created this one plotting consumer confidence with TV viewing:

TV and consumer confidence

People watch TV for many reasons: to share experiences, to be entertained, to learn and to connect with the world. However it is worth remembering TV broadcasters can make the highest quality, most entertaining programmes, and viewers can invest in incredible kit that makes the TV viewing experience extraordinary, but if the weather’s nice and you have money in your pocket you are likely to go out more and watch a bit less TV. That’s just life. Although, let’s not get too worried if people watch a little less TV a day; TV remains by far the medium people want to spend the most time with whatever the weather – half our media day according to the latest IPA Touchpoints data. So let’s finish with that chart:

Touchpoints media day 2014

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