"I'm head of the class / I'm popular / I'm a quarter back / I'm popular / My mom says I'm a catch / I'm popular / I'm never last picked / I got a cheerleading chick."
So sang 90s alt. rock also-rans Nada Surf in their 1996 offering “popular”, but what about those at the bottom of the social pecking order? Especially when it comes to television channels? (Yeah, we tried to think of a clever segue there, and failed miserably.) Which digital TV channels are being sent off to the electronic programme guide with a pudding basin haircut, unfashionable trainers and their elder brother’s unlicensed Def Leppard pencil case? Well, after recently being reminded of an odd-one-out round in Have I Got News For You where sneery mention was made of Sgorio on S4C officially being watched by no-one*, we decided to find out.
(*Which of course simply means that too few BARB diarists watched a given programme to be extrapolated into a four figure national viewing figure, of course. But it is more fun to make out a TV show had no viewers at all. As we probably will in this blog update.)
“Tee-hee! Welsh people! Guffaw! Also, John Prescott is still fat, and we still get paid for this tosh.”
WHAT WE DID
Sifting through the ever-wonderful BARB website, we took figures for the top ten most-watched programmes on every single digital channel that reports them, for the first week of October. Then, we did the same for the second and third weeks of October, as quite a few channels seem to have at least one week’s figures missing from the website (not small channels either, the likes of ITV1 HD, Comedy Central and FX tend to miss the occasional week). Then we plotted the whole lot into a massive spreadsheet, and worked out the average viewing figure, for the average top-ten show, for the average week in October 2010 (thus far).
Our findings? Well, here are the thirty LEAST watched TV channels in the UK, from the 228 channels with figures to report. Remember, the number of viewers listed is the average viewer count for a top ten show on each channel. Just imagine how few pairs of eyeballs get pointed towards these channels shows at 5am.
(Note: several channels that are listed on BARB’s website carry no figures at all – mainly because they don’t exist any more like Setanta Sports or Nuts TV, or because they’re unlikely to get any viewing figures at all. Feel free to imagine where the likes of Body In Balance, Brit Hits, Bubble Hits, Controversial TV, Fitness TV, Fox News, Ideal World, MUTV, Real Estate TV, Sky Real Lives or The Paranormal Channel might figure on the list below.)
Yes, getting that image just right did take a while, so expect us to re-use that template. Often. (Oh, and the fact we’re listening to an Alan Hawkshaw album while compiling this update might be why we’ve gone with the ‘Pages From Ceefax’ look.)
So, a list comprised mostly of minority and music channels, but a few interesting sights on there. Not least that of VH-1, a long-standing music brand (see a brilliant set of articles on the branding of the US original here), pre-dating Sky Digital itself. Only just above that in the list, MTV Classic, formerly known as VH-2, and which had been re-branded in an attempt to be more, well, ‘popular’. Mission technically accomplished, we suppose.
Speaking of rebranding, MTV Rocks also fares badly – a channel that was best known under its original name of MTV Two (nee M2), and which was once the greatest music channel we’ve ever watched (i.e. it once played the kind of wilfully strange music we like, and carried no adverts). Since it relaunched as what might as well have been called MTV Kasabian Non-Stop For 18 Hours Every Sodding Day, the channel’s performance seems to have suffered greatly – running comparison figures for MTV Two for October 2008 reveal a top-ten average of 13,500, meaning nearly 50% of the audience has gone in two years.
Newly-launched ITV2 HD is also on there, which is quite a drop-off from ITV1 HD, which is the tenth-most watched channel in the UK (going by our system). The main difference being that unlike ITV1 HD, the newer high-definition ITV channel is only available to people paying Sky’s £10 HD subscription per month. We did suspect it might also be because very little of ITV2 HD’s output is actually in native HD, but that isn’t really the case, most of it’s primetime programming is in HD, even if much of that is repeated from ITV1 HD. Mind you, does anyone really want to see Piers Morgan’s face in even greater clarity?
The arse-end of the list, then. Your average top-ten show on “Men & Movies” (Freesat only, channel 143, and not to be confused with Men & Motors, which closed a few months ago) attracted fewer viewers than the attendance for a mid-table Blue Square Premier match. In fairness, it is a channel that didn’t even exist for the first week under consideration, and maybe lots of people will want to watch the dozen or so imported war-based docudramas that they seem to show on an endless loop. For now though, Men & Movies holds the distinction of three of its top ten programmes attracting the near-mythical official viewer count of zero. If anyone actually watched “The Last Days of Mussolini”, “FILM: Carnal Desires (1999)” or “FILM: The Heroes of WW2 (1995)” on there, you might want to double-check that you actually exist.
Having just had to look up what Lava TV actually is (Sky channel 378), we discover it’s supposedly an indie-rock music channel (though it was playing some utterly dreadful death metal when we checked it just now). It’s notable just how badly music channels fare on this list – fourteen of the bottom thirty on our list are dedicated to music – no wonder MTV (the channel, not the network) never broadcasts music videos any more. If it proves anything, it’s that very few people can stand watching the same annoying ringtone advert every twelve minutes. Or that most people realise they can just watch music videos from their favourite bands on YouTube without interruption.
But what of S4C? After all (scoff! Guffaw! Etc!), doesn’t that have No Viewers At All? Sadly for fans of lazy topical comedy (and hey, you’re reading this blog), it doesn’t do too badly on our grand list, placed in 69th position – that’s above Comedy Central Extra, ESPN (which has exclusive live Premier League football) and UKTV’s Home. Not bad for a channel targeting the 1% of the UK population able to speak Welsh fluently (and no, there’s no analogue TV in Wales any more, so none of that figure is boosted by English-language Channel 4 programming, as used to be the case. Everyone in Wales can view ‘proper’ Channel 4 if they want to nowadays).
What about the other end of the list? We couldn’t really have calculated all those figures and not list the top thirty channels, could we?
We used to absolutely love Oracle’s TV viewing figures page when we were kids, you know.
Largely fuelled by X-Factor, ITV1 sits atop the pile. As mentioned briefly earlier, ITV1 HD also does remarkably well, despite the majority of its daily output merely being upscaled SD. E4’s figures are given a healthy leg-up by The Inbetweeners, which clocks up an absolutely astonishing 3.7m viewers per episode – surely it’s the highest rated digital-only programme yet in the UK?
Gratifyingly, BBC Four and More4 both outperform Sky Sports 1 and 2, suggesting that Mark Gatiss and Jon Stewart are more popular than Andy Gray and Jamie Redknapp. Channel One (previously Virgin One) is only marginally behind Living TV, despite new owners BSkyB deciding to close it in order to concentrate on their other new acquisition, er, Living TV. Meanwhile, thanks to the Chilean miner rescue, the figures for BBC News and Sky “Miners Rescued: 0, Miners Dead: 0” News are inflated for week three of our datagrab – normally average figures would hover around 230k and 130k respectively.
That’s about all we’ll bore you all with for now, but hardcore stathounds can enjoy a full rundown of the numbers in our Google Docs spreadsheet here.