The COVID effect – Free to Air TV ratings soar

By Media Merchants

As Australian’s were forced indoors into immediate and mandatory self-isolation in March, very few could have predicted how the COVID-19 pandemic would play out over the coming 12 months and the far-reaching effects it would have on economies, businesses, and consumer behaviour. One of the industries to benefit from this change is free-to-air television, with free to air TV ratings soaring.

According to Fetch viewership data, free-to-air news viewership spiked over 200% in mid-March. This was coupled with increased viewership overall, with users watching an additional hour per day of television despite mainstay programming disruptions to live sport and reality shows. Mumbrella reported that Nine News received its highest rating bulletin since 2015 at the beginning of the pandemic and a Seven News bulletin was the most-watched news program of the year with 1.38m metro viewers tuning in.


Subscription TV and streaming services also received strong boosts in viewership corresponding with the stay-at-home orders being issued. Data from Roy Morgan shows that 15.74 million Australians now have access to a subscription TV service (including streaming), representing a growth of 878,000 (+5.9%) people between February and May 2020.


1. Mumbrella https://mumbrella.com.au/news-coverage-spiked-300-following-melbourne-covid-19-outbreaks-according-to-new-fetch-data-637325
2. Mumbrella https://mumbrella.com.au/news-coverage-spiked-300-following-melbourne-covid-19-outbreaks-according-to-new-fetch-data-637325
3. Roy Morgan http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/8472-subscription-pay-tv-services-may-2020-202007200704

A report by Price Waterhouse Coopers showed that Broadcast video on demand (BVOD) growth continued, with a 31% increase year-on-year for the period January to June 2020[1]. Consumption increased on all devices, but this was most notable on Connected TVs, which saw an increase of 55% from the same period year-on-year. Top-performing shows included fan favourites Married at First Sight, Masterchef, Love Island and Big Brother.


Yet despite the increased viewership across linear TV, SVOD and BVOD, the Standard Media Index figures showed the worst year in living memory for the media-agency funded ad spend, falling 14.7% in FY19/20. Many advertisers pulled their advertising spend in Q2 in response to the emerging pandemic and uncertainty around how the market would react, with the most heavily affected being the travel, political and banking sectors.

Faced with internal pressure to cut costs, marketing budgets are often the first to go. But successful brands view advertising as an investment, not an expense. Research from Harvard Business Review shows that companies that continue to advertise throughout a recession are more likely to flourish both during and after. When competition is decreasing, it can often be a good time to increase ad spend. In the UK, Audi increased its media spend by 10% from 2008 to 2009 during the Global Financial Crisis at the same time its competitors were cutting theirs; as a result, its order book was up 79%.

Brands that continued to advertise in 2020 were rewarded with the most engaged television audiences we have seen in recent memory, less clutter from their competitors and greater added value in the form of bonus airtime. As time goes on, it remains to be seen what long-term benefits will arise because of this decision.


A selection of Media Merchants campaigns with Free To Air TV, includes:
10K A Day Giveaway
Midas Justice League
Good Price Pharmacy Orange Project
National Product Review Branding Campaign
Bi-Rite 100 Hour Sale
Shaver Shop Remington Quick Shave
Narta Show Your Colours Laundry Campaign
Retravision Online Shopping With Danny Green & Pat
Betta Go Local Campaign
Midas - Win 1 Million Velocity Points


4. PWC https://www.pwc.com.au/industry/entertainment-and-media-trends-analysis/outlook/free-to-air-television.html
5. Mumbrella https://mumbrella.com.au/ad-spend-has-worst-financial-year-in-living-memory-and-dropped-35-7-in-june-637197
6. Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2009/04/how-to-market-in-a-downturn-2
7. Millward Brown https://www.millwardbrown.ru/library/MillwardBrown_KnowledgePoint_UncertainTimes.pdf