News coverage spiked 300% following Melbourne COVID-19 outbreaks, according to new Fetch data

In mid-March, free-to-air (FTA) news viewership spiked over 200% and the most recent Melbourne COVID-19 outbreak saw a jump of nearly 300% in the state, according to viewing data from Fetch.

The major spike in news coverage isn’t the only boost FTA has seen since the pandemic hit Australia. Viewing per household has increased across the Fetch platform by 19% during the months of restrictions, with the majority of that increase attributed to FTA.

Between March and April, viewing on the Fetch platform rose by an hour per day. Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD), which includes Netflix and Stan, accounted for some of that growth, with the average viewing time per day more than doubling during the early stages of lockdown. However, across the three months, SVOD stabilised and is now sitting around 10% higher than its March averages.

Comparatively, FTA has retained its growth – peaking at 37 minutes more per day and stabilising at around 18 minutes more per day.

Fetch CEO Scott Lorson told Mumbrella the data shows the clear hunger for local news coverage from Australian viewers and the reliance and trust in FTA broadcasting.

“Since stay at home orders went into effect in mid-March, we have seen sharp increases in TV viewing with the average Fetch household watching nearly one hour more TV each day,” he said.

“The most pronounced increase has been for the FTA News bulletins, across the day and all networks. In mid-March, FTA news viewership was up over 200%, and we have seen a spike of nearly 300% in Melbourne since the recent outbreak.”

Lorson said that while FTA has seen the biggest growth and local news is the strongest drawcard for viewers, international news channels have also seen a sharp climb given the global nature of the pandemic.

FTA accounted for 64% of the total viewership increase Fetch saw – 60% of that was across linear FTA and 4% was Broadcast Video On Demand (BVOD) or catchup platforms. Linear subscription, or pay TV, was the second-biggest grower, responsible for 17% of the increase across Fetch.

Lorson said the platform has also seen growth in its SVOD, transactional services and across Youtube, but where these sections saw spikes early on, they didn’t hold the same longterm growth as FTA did. Local news coverage has overwhelmingly given FTA the edge, with viewership spiking following the outbreaks.

In Melbourne, viewership of news increased by 212% towards the end of March, before slipping back to 150% higher than pre-COVID levels in May. Following the most recent outbreaks, the numbers leapt up again, jumping 280%.

Sydney saw similar numbers at the beginning of the outbreak, rising by 212% in March. Numbers in Sydney also dropped during April and May, reducing to 137% above pre-COVID levels, before spiking again in June to 199%.

Nine News reported its highest-rating bulletins since 2015 at the beginning of the pandemic and a Seven News bulletin from the end of March has been the most-watched news program of the year with 1.381m metro viewers tuning in according to OzTam ratings.

But the increased viewer figures and hunger for coverage provide a stark comparison to the advertising data. The latest Standard Media Index (SMI) figures, which cover media agency-funded ad spend, showed the 2019/2020 financial year was the “worst year in living memory” for Australia’s media industry.

In June, spend across television fell 33.8%, making the sector the second-best performer for the month, behind digital which fell 19.9%. Cinema fell the furthest – 86.9% – with the sector impacted by restrictions and lockdowns.

But as Lorson says, the FTA networks are still the most trusted source of local news, and while the ad spend may be struggling, he says the numbers show audiences are still where they should be.


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