In the late noughties, I was at a conference where one of the delegates noted how EPGs (electronic programme guides) with their ordered lists of channels and schedule information were so archaic that they might as well be considered ‘Victorian’, if not quite steam powered, though the jury was still out on that one. With the viewing impact of EPG prominence being one of my core areas of expertise, I was not amused, but there is no telling some people and I was clearly dealing with a revolutionary who was convinced that the tyranny of the schedule was over and that no one would be watching any live television in a few years’ time. My work on the audience impact of EPG prominence for Ofcom a few years later certainly showed how important a good EPG slot can be when it comes to boosting and maintaining a channel’s performance. However, given all the changes and challenges the TV industry has faced in recent years, with the rapid expansion of internet based VOD and the associated OTT apps and services from Netflix to YouTube, can a channel’s position on a linear EPG anchored to a live broadcast schedule still have a significant impact on its performance?
To answer this question, I will begin with my perennial announcement that traditional schedule based television, even among younger viewers, is not dead or dying, but evolving, and as the only true demonstration of a forecaster’s abilities is past performance, I am happy to engage in some shameless self-promotion by noting that my Total TV viewing forecasts from early 2015 have so far turned out to be very much on the mark. If nothing else, there must be a plausible reason to explain why Amazon has been so keen to advertise the online release of ‘The Grand Tour’ on linear television – put simply, it is still the best and quickest way to get your message across to a wide audience. If schedule based television remains a force to be reckoned with, then it would also seem logical to assume that EPG prominence remains important, but in the interest of not engaging in a spot of ‘post-truth’ analysis (‘I believe it, therefore it must be true’) it is important to provide some actual concrete evidence to support this claim.
Ideally, of course, I would be conducting a comprehensive analysis of the viewing impact of recent EPG reshuffles, but unfortunately that would be well beyond the scope of this short research note, though I do have one rather compelling recent example that I can share. On the 29th of November 2016, 4Seven was moved from no. 195 to no. 143 on the Virgin Media EPG, which (when accounting for the occasional numbering gaps) constitutes a very significant gain in EPG prominence of 50 channel ranks. Just as importantly, 4Seven’s position on the Satellite (i.e. Sky & Freesat) and DTT (i.e. Freeview, YouView, BT, TalkTalk & Plusnet) EPGs did not change over the relevant timeframe, therefore providing a baseline for comparison. The Virgin Media platform is also one on which a combination of VOD (both SVOD and broadcaster catch-up) and PVR playback have been available for a long time, and even Netflix, the constantly touted killer of television, has been available on Virgin Media since the autumn of 2013, where it can be accessed from both the App section of the guide and at no. 204 on the linear channel list. With so many ways of escaping the tyranny of the schedule, one might be tempted to make the case that traditional EPG prominence, in the form of a gain in channel ranks on a simple channel list with linear schedule based information, is unlikely to have a significant impact on a channel’s performance, particularly on an advanced pay-tv platform like Virgin Media. However, while such pseudo-logical arguments are undoubtedly compelling, what does the actual evidence tell us?
The main piece of evidence must necessarily be 4Seven’s performance on Virgin Media (VM) and the Satellite and DTT platform control groups around the time it moved 50 channel ranks up the VM EPG on 29-11-2016. As it’s been around 3 months since this change took place, it is also reasonable to look at 4Seven’s performance in the 12 weeks before the VM reshuffle, and then compare this to its performance in the 12 weeks after. So, in the 12 weeks before its gain in VM EPG prominence, 4Seven averaged an Individuals 4+ daily Share of viewing of 0.199 on VM, while on DTT it averaged a daily Share of 0.290, and on Satellite it averaged a daily Share of 0.362. In the 12 weeks after the VM reshuffle, 4Seven averaged an Individuals 4+ daily Share of viewing of 0.485 (up 144%) on VM, while on DTT it averaged a daily Share of 0.356 (up 23%), and on Satellite it averaged a daily Share of 0.420 (up 16%). Now, all of these changes are statistically significant, so clearly 4Seven was doing better on all platforms in the period after the VM reshuffle, but what cannot be ignored is the sheer size of the performance gain on VM relative to the control groups, with 4Seven’s average daily Share of viewing on the VM platform being nearly two and a half times higher post reshuffle, while there were only relatively modest gains of less than a quarter on both DTT and Satellite. Even more pertinent, however, is the fact that when we look at 4Seven’s performance time-series in detail, there is a highly pronounced upward step-change in 4Seven’s Share of viewing on the VM platform at the precise time of its gain in VM EPG prominence, with no such step-change being evident on either the DTT or Satellite platforms where 4Seven’s EPG positioning has remained unchanged over the relevant timeframe.
This is certainly compelling evidence to highlight the continuing importance of EPG prominence to channel performance, and in the case of 4Seven, if we err on the side of caution and assume that its Share of viewing on the VM platform merely doubled as a direct result of the gain in EPG prominence, this still translates into an additional Individuals 4+ Average Audience of approximately 2,500. While this may not sound like much, it must be remembered that what this means is that every minute of every day 2,500 more viewers will (on average) be watching 4Seven as a direct result of the fact that it is now more visible on the VM channel list. If we were to translate this into the kind of ‘Big’ numbers that dominate online viewing reports, our analysis suggests that 4Seven stands to benefit to the tune of an extra 22 Million Hours (or 1.3 Billion Minutes) of viewing per annum.
So, yes, EPG prominence definitely still matters!
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