“The way ‘Top Gear’ is being viewed is repositioning the way television is consumed.” That was former host Chris Evans’ answer to negative headlines about the BBC motoring show’s disappointing TV ratings.
His point was this: “Top Gear’s” overnight audience is only half the story. Viewers increasingly record the programme and watch it later, or catch-up on iPlayer.
In fact, under Jeremy Clarkson, “Top Gear” was a standard bearer for iPlayer. More often than not, new episodes were watched more than any other show on the BBC’s online video service.
But analysis by Business Insider shows that “Top Gear’s” online audience plummeted in the hands of Evans, suggesting the programme’s ratings woes were down to much more than just changing viewing habits.
First up, the BBC’s iPlayer figures:
The BBC has shared with Business Insider iPlayer figures for Evans’ entire series of “Top Gear” — and it’s not easy reading for the broadcaster.
The graph shows that after 2 million viewed the May 29 launch show, “Top Gear’s” online iPlayer engagement fell by more than a half to 800,000 for episode five, before recovering slightly.
This is not the full picture. The final two instalments are still available to watch on iPlayer under the service’s 30-day catch-up window and are therefore certain to gain requests. But they are unlikely to recover to hit the high of the first episode.
Compare this performance with the first seven episodes of series 22 in 2015, when Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May were still presenting the show (there was an eighth episode, but it was aired later in the year after Clarkson was sacked for a punching producer).
As the above graph shows, it was a more stable picture. The seven episodes averaged just over 2 million views, which is more than 700,000 above this year’s series so far.
Clarkson and co’s popularity online will be one of the major reasons that Amazon Prime Instant Video spent a reported £160 million ($210 million) to secure the presenters. They are now filming “The Grand Tour”, which will launch in the autumn.
Second: Online ratings from the UK’s ratings body Barb:
As well as the BBC’s own iPlayer figures, the UK’s television ratings body Barb publishes weekly online ratings collected from the major UK broadcasters’ video on demand players, including ITV Hub, All 4 and Sky Go.
The Barb data is still in beta, but “Top Gear’s” performance bears a striking resemblance to the iPlayer figures released by the BBC.
Here, “Top Gear’s” so-called “average programme streams” — which Barb calculates from metadata tags that have been coded into the online video players — dipped 75% from 380,000 to 95,000, before recovering for the final episode. It was a near identical trend to the BBC figures.
What’s more, “Top Gear” did not come out on top once in Barb’s weekly ranking of the top online programmes. It was often beaten by BBC 1 soap opera “EastEnders” and youth brands, including ITV2 dating show “Love Island” and E4’s “Made in Chelsea.”
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