Sky’s recent appeal against DMOL’s proposed Freeview EPG reshuffle, citing the likely negative impact on Sky News, has again brought the value of EPG prominence under the spotlight. Perhaps even more pertinent is the fact that DMOL’s proposal does not actually change the relative position of the News channels within the genre rankings on the Freeview EPG, but simply changes their LCNs (logical channel numbers) to facilitate the future launch of new channels in the General Entertainment (which is overflowing), HD and Children’s genre sections. In effect, Sky is therefore not appealing against an immediate loss of EPG prominence (such as would have been the case for the Shopping channels, for example, if DMOL had succeeded in moving them out of General Entertainment into a dedicated Shopping genre section) but against a likely future loss of Freeview EPG prominence as new channels launch in the genre sections ahead of Sky News in the coming months and years.
There are of course numerous examples of the significant viewing impact of EPG prominence that Sky could cite in support of its case, and much of my work in this area has been published on the Ofcom website. The impact of MTV’s move from the top of the Music section into the 25th channel slot in the Entertainment section of the Sky EPG (a rise of 150 channel ranks) on 01/02/2011 is a particularly striking example, with its Share of viewing on the Sky platform rising by around 150% when comparing its performance in the 6 weeks after versus the 6 weeks before the reshuffle. The fact that, over the same timeframe, MTV’s Share of viewing was down nearly 20% on Virgin Media, where it didn’t benefit from a rise up the Virgin Media EPG, suggests that the positive viewing impact of its prominent new position on the Sky EPG is likely to have been even higher. Indeed, comparing MTV’s performance on the Sky and Virgin Media platforms over a longer timeframe, we find that in the 13 months from the start of the new BARB panel (in Jan-2010) to the time of the SKY EPG change, MTV averaged 0.144 Share points on Virgin Media versus 0.104 Share points on Sky. By contrast, in the 18 months since the Sky EPG change MTV on Virgin Media has average 0.138 Share points versus 0.290 Share points on Sky. In other words, after consistently getting around 28% less Share on Sky than on Virgin Media, since the EPG change MTV’s Share on Sky has been consistently more than twice as high as its Share on the Virgin Media platform. This is clearly a dramatic example, if ever there was one, of the long term benefits of a prominent EPG slot.
The value of EPG prominence as a means of promoting UK originated content was also one of the main topics of discussion at the recent DCMS seminar on Driving Investment and Growth in the UK’s TV Content Industries. The Government’s drive for a local TV service in the UK has certainly begun to establish a precedent for using EPG prominence as a means of promoting channels by adding them to the list of PSB channels that are due ‘appropriate prominence’ on EPGs under section 310 of the Communications Act 2003. In the case of local TV this has not proved to be particularly controversial, as the overall competitive impact of a local TV service is likely to be small, and as a result the concept of potentially rewarding channels with more prominent EPG slots based on the public service value of their content has gained at least some political traction. A more comprehensive effort to promote PSB or UK originated content, on the other hand, by for example adding further channels to the list of PSBs, or implementing more prescriptive legislation tying EPG prominence to the volume of UK originated content being broadcast, is likely to prove far more controversial and difficult to implement.
There is also the question of whether EPG prominence is necessarily that important when it comes to promoting more specialist PSB type content, such as a hyper local news or magazine shows, as there is a case to be made that viewers who are interested in such content are much more likely to actively seek it out, putting less emphasis on the need for a prominent EPG slot to aid discoverability and provide easy access. The PSB value of its content aside, proponents of this view would argue that the MTV example isn’t particularly relevant, as its eclectic mix of Factual Entertainment and Comedy based content is just the sort of thing that might appeal to EPG browsing viewers looking for something to watch. Within the context of using EPG prominence to promote specialist PSB type content, however, it would be hard to argue against the relevance of the recent example of the Sky Arts channels moving into prominent slots on the Sky EPG.
On 21/02/2012 Sky Arts 1 and Sky Arts 2 moved up nearly 90 channel ranks from the first page of the Lifestyle & Culture section into the 28th and 29th channel slots in the Entertainment section of the Sky EPG. With some significant event based programming (e.g. live concert coverage) the viewing to the Sky Arts channels can be highly volatile and so it is best to analyse their combined Share of viewing to generate a more stable set of results. A further complicating factor is that the Sky Arts EPG reshuffle also coincided with a significant drive by Sky to raise the profile and appeal of the Sky Arts channels, with a raft of new programmes, paid for by a three-fold increase in programming budgets, being broadcast in 2012. As a result, there was a statistically significant increase in the Share of viewing of the Sky Arts channels on both the Sky and Virgin Media platforms at the time of the Sky EPG reshuffle, even though they didn’t change position on the Virgin Media EPG. Crucially, however, the performance boost was substantially higher on the Sky platform (up 118% in the 6 weeks after versus the 6 weeks before the EPG reshuffle on Sky, with only a 54% increase over the same timeframe on Virgin), suggesting that as well as the new content there was an additional benefit from being in a much more prominent EPG slot.
The additional benefit of the gain in EPG prominence is also evident when we compare the performance of the Sky Arts channels on the Sky and Virgin Media platforms over a longer timeframe. In the 14 months from Jan-2010 to Feb-2012 the Sky Arts channels averaged a combined total of 0.089 Share points on Virgin Media versus 0.106 Share points on Sky. By contrast, in the 5 months since the Sky EPG change they averaged 0.149 Share points on Virgin Media versus 0.230 Share points on Sky. In other words, after consistently getting only around 19% more Share on Sky than on Virgin Media, since the Sky EPG change the combined Sky platform Share of the Sky Arts channels has consistently been around 54% higher than their corresponding Share on the Virgin Media platform.
While perhaps not as dramatic as the MTV example, this is still strong evidence in support of the thesis that even with more specialised content, where potentially interested viewers are more inclined to make an effort to seek it out, EPG prominence is still likely to have a significant performance impact.
It is, however, also important to recognise that other types of search and recommendation systems (e.g. TiVo, Second Screen Apps, etc.) will begin to play an increasingly important role in how we find and consume audio-visual content. Nevertheless, scrolling through the standard EPG channel listings is likely to remain a significant element in the way we select the unplanned portion of our television viewing for the foreseeable future, particularly among older viewers. This also explains why, despite platform convergence and a growing list of new gateways to access both live and on-demand content, EPG prominence continues to be a valuable commercial commodity for channel operators, as well as a potential legislative tool for increasing the viewing of (and hence promoting) certain types of content.
If you would like to receive the associated research notes to Dr Farid El-Husseini’s blog posts please email him directly on: firstname.lastname@example.org.