The bland leading the bland

If this year's festive television left you cold, you only have yourselves to blame. Schedulers believe viewers got just what they want for Christmas.

If you found yourself watching
Noel's Christmas Presents and
Auntie's Bloomers on Christmas Day, you were not alone. For, as regular as clockwork, the nation's media habits resort to seasonal stereotype at this time of year. Forget the competition for TV ratings, radio audiences or newspaper sales fought for the preceding 50 weeks - normal tastes and habits go out the window between Christmas and New Year.

If you found yourself watching Noel's Christmas Presents and Auntie's Bloomers on Christmas Day, you were not alone. For, as regular as clockwork, the nation's media habits resort to seasonal stereotype at this time of year. Forget the competition for TV ratings, radio audiences or newspaper sales fought for the preceding 50 weeks - normal tastes and habits go out the window between Christmas and New Year.

Luckily for newspaper publishers, published sales data does not break down Christmas and New Year holiday consumption, but the reduced pagination of all national dailies has its own story to tell.

Radio listening, meanwhile, also tails off - to the extent that the audience research conducted by Rajar is annually suspended for two to three weeks at this time of year. Which is probably just as well given the number of stations whose playlists become dominated by Queen and Noddy Holder, and the general public's late-in-the-day conversion to actually liking Cliff Richard's "Millennium Prayer".

"Viewers' tastes and expectations change markedly at Christmas," says Steven Price, head of network scheduling analysis at ITV Network Centre. "Over the years, they have come to expect a family drama, a big movie and a special edition of their favourite sitcom."

That's why the mix of programming we enjoy at Christmas has changed little in decades. This year's festive menu comprised seasonal EastEnders, The Vicar of Dibley and David Copperfield on BBC1; seasonal Coronation Street and A Touch of Frost on ITV or Ali G's Alternative Christmas Message and a cabaret-style opera about the life of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll on Channel 4.

Christmas ratings' crackers in the early Nineties were Only Fools and Horses, One Foot in the Grave and Birds of a Feather. A decade earlier it was Raiders of the Lost Ark and Porridge, while the Seventies were ruled by The Likely Lads, Dad's Army and Mastermind.

"The Christmas audience seems to have an endless capacity to watch ancient movies most of them have already seen before," a senior executive at one broadcaster laments. "We set out to give them what they want and, with few exceptions, this means bland fare. I often wonder if we could be bolder. But why waste a brilliant and serious documentary or original contemporary drama if Christmas viewers want undemanding fare? So that's what we do."

Those of us who watch The Queen's Speech, meanwhile, would rather do so without the ads. And scheduling tactics change to cater for this different viewing mindset.

"The usual 9pm watershed, for example, is diluted with mixed age groups watching longer and kids staying up later than is usually the case. The amount of flak the BBC got last year for its Christmas edition of Men Behaving Badly, which some people found too rude, indicates the more wholesome tone people expect later in the evening when watching TV at Christmas and New Year," says Steven Price.

Between Yule and New Year, there is relatively low demand from advertisers for commercial airtime, due to a belief that people are less in the mood to spend following their festive spending spree. Besides, grumbles one top-10 advertiser: "People watch passively with little involvement at this time of year - which has massive impact on the out-take for advertising. While ratings may look high, there's no guarantee anyone's watching. For although BARB viewing data records when a TV is on, it does not detect if a viewer is asleep, drunk or has left the room."

ITV switched tactics this year, however, with a more aggressive approach that included wheeling out seasonal editions of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? not once, but three times on Christmas Day. With up to 19 per cent more people watching TV over the Christmas and New Year holiday period, Price says, there's just no excuse for commercial channels to throw in the towel - not least because the gameplan shifts once more with the arrival of Boxing Day.

Graeme Stanley, director of broadcasting for ONdigital, agrees. Research conducted for the company shows that TV audiences have planned more carefully the programmes they watch over Christmas and New Year. The study found 66 per cent of viewers at this time of year to be Sofa Strategists - carefully pre-selecting each day's viewing compared with just 14 per cent defined as Serious Surfers - people prone to channel-hopping - and 8 per cent known as Supines - those willing to watch anything friends or family want to see. As a result, Stanley believes commercial broadcasters still have everything to play for.

"Viewing figures quickly shift in commercial broadcasters' favour between Christmas and New Year," he says. BBC 1 may still be the place to turn for a special occasion - as a channel for reflection, but ITV is still regarded by many as the place for a celebration - the party channel. And it's no coincidence that, earlier this month, ITV persuaded a drinks firm, Diageo, to fork out £1m to purchase all airtime in the last commercial break of 31 December and the first of 1 January.

With the new millennium just a few days away, attention is also turning to the titanic clash for ratings anticipated on Friday night. For while competition for viewers rises sharply the week after each Christmas, larger than usual numbers are expected to be watching TV this year as more people choose to stay at home due to inflated millennium- night prices and anticipated traffic congestion. In the blue corner, BBC 1 is promising the world's most ambitious live TV broadcast, 2000 Today, from 8.35pm on New Year's Eve through to 1.30pm on New Year's Day. ITV, meanwhile, is limbering up to show Countdown 2000 - a tighter affair airing from 10.55pm to 1.05am.

"The Christmas and New Year period remains a time for everyone to come together as a family and do the same thing. There is a heightened feeling of participation," Graeme Stanley adds. "People would find it grotesque to be in different corners of the house watching different programmes on different TVs - especially on New Year's Eve."

For the time being, at least.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind"

News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
football

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Ad Sales - UK Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: An award-winning global mul...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel your sales role is l...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Vendor Services Manager (IT) - Central London

£50000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Vendor Services Manager (...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album