Disdained by those who don’t watch it, Lisa Campbell discovers that the genre is booming.
Daytime TV has long been the butt of comedians’ jokes. In an episode of Mock the Week last year, Hugh Dennis pretended to be a weary daytime announcer: “Well, because they’re all the same, and I can’t be bothered to announce them all, here’s Flog Dickinson’s Antiques Sun Hammer Pointless Breakout in the Country… finishes at 5pm.”
And in one of his recent shows, Michael McIntyre said he hoped that he wasn’t one of “those people” who watch TV in the daytime. “A lot of bloated women seem to be watching TV. Activia yoghurt. That’s the solution.” He went on to list DFS sofas, ads for anti-chafing cream and Michael Bublé as other daytime delights.
The reality, however, is that daytime TV is booming for many of the broadcasters and is attracting audiences beyond the stereotypical bored housewife and jobless graduate.
ITV daytime, particularly, is enjoying something of a golden age, meaning that the once very-public woes of Daybreak – rock-bottom ratings and more reinventions than Marks & Spencer – are a long-forgotten nightmare.
The 6am-6pm daytime slot has increased its audience every year for the past four years, and this year is the best-performing since 2003 (with an 18.6% audience share for January to September).
That is partly down to noisy, headline-grabbing morning shows – and to one particularly noisy, headline-grabbing presenter, Good Morning Britain’s Piers Morgan.
Pairing the irksome, controversy-seeking Morgan with the patient, consummate professional Susanna Reid proved to be the masterstroke that ensured that Good Morning Britain avoided the same dire fate as its predecessor, Daybreak.
The show now regularly tops 1 million viewers and its share of viewing is up 17% year-on-year. It’s also something of a social-media sensation – not just thanks to Morgan’s provocative tweets, but to Reid’s exasperated eye rolls and withering put-downs, which often go viral.
Another key to the show’s success is its ability to land exclusives, from Thomas Markle speaking for the first time about his daughter’s royal wedding, to Morgan’s much-publicised interview with Donald Trump in July.
For the joint heads of ITV Daytime, Jane Beacon and Clare Ely, the show exemplifies what makes their daytime fare distinctive. “We’re all about strong characters,” says Ely.
“From Piers and Susanna to David Dickinson, Jeremy Kyle and Judge Rinder, we’re not afraid to be controversial. It means we get lots of attention and it gives us a very different tone to BBC daytime.”
This Morning, ITV’s late-morning magazine show and another stalwart of the schedule, has also been in the news recently. Its 30th anniversary special clocked up 1.8 million viewers and a 15% share – its biggest audience for nine years.
The anniversary in October was marked with a Bafta Special Award, with former host Richard Madeley remarking that it was successful because “it plugged into the viewers, it belonged to them. It didn’t belong to us or our production team, or Granada or ITV, it belonged to the viewers, and that was the key to it.”
It’s a tone and philosophy that successive teams have preserved through the decades. “The show belongs to the audience and they are so connected to it, even more so now with social media and the new This Morning app, which was number one in the App Store when it launched in October,” says Beacon.
“And we have a symbiotic relationship with social media across all our shows,” adds Ely. “We feed social media with brilliant content and, in turn, that’s reciprocated.”
This Morning, too, has benefited from securing exclusives – an extended special covered Princess Eugenie’s wedding and secured 3.2 million viewers and a 45% audience share, its biggest audience ever.
Not surprisingly, there’s now an increased desire to gain more access to the biggest stories and events.
When it comes to the afternoons, ITV scheduling manager John Williams has been keen to create greater consistency, since he joined the broadcaster a year ago.
Instead of slots being in continual flux or filled with repeats, shows are now at defined times to reflect the fact that, while daytime audiences are loyal, they like routine.
“When you create consistency, you can build momentum. So, at 2pm, we have the three Cs – courtroom, crime and cooking [currently Judge Rinder rules here]; at 3pm, it’s the two Ds, Warwick Davis and David Dickinson; at 4pm, it’s Tipping Point, and 5pm is Bradley Walsh with The Chase or Cash Trapped.”
With long-running and successful stalwarts in the schedule, it is harder to launch new shows – The Chase turns 10 next year and its audience share is up 8% year on year; Loose Women is 20 next year; Lorraine has been on for air nine years and its share is up 5% year on year.
Nevertheless, Beacon stresses: “As a commercial broadcaster, it’s important to grow netw shows – and to stick with them because, when shows fail, they fail fast. Rinder was a big risk as he was unknown but we stuck with it and now he’s such a big part of ITV daytime.”
Likewise, Tenable has gained momentum since its launch in 2016, averaging 900,000 viewers and a 14% share so far this year, which is up 240,000 viewers and four share points, compared with last year.
It does mean that there are no openings for producers until 2020, but Ely and Beacon are encouraged that industry perceptions of what makes good daytime TV are at last changing.
Says Ely: “Daytime was seen as a mumsy genre. We’d be pitched crafts and knitting and weddings and dating. And loads of pet shows. People would say, ‘Nine million people own a dog’, and we’d say: ‘Yes, but 61 million don’t.’ Daytime doesn’t mean niche.”
The challenge of launching new shows when the schedule is packed with big brands has also been an issue for Channel 4.
However, the decision to decommission Deal or No Deal two years ago freed up 200 hours per year, allowing the channel to air more upmarket, repeatable features.
These are typically presenter-led, observational shows featuring ordinary people and have a clear sense of take-out for the audience. They include A New Life in the Sun; Escape to the Chateau: DIY; Find It, Fix It, Flog It and Extreme Cake Makers.
The latter two shows have won an RTS and a Broadcast award, respectively, and helped change the perception that daytime means low budget and low quality.
Daytime share is up 8% year on year after a flat period, and, if current trends continue, it will be at its highest share for three years.
“These shows have benefited from advances in technology and are so well produced that the quality exceeds what you’d expect for a typical daytime budget. They can feel like peaktime shows, which is why we can attract a 45% ABC1 audience – that is high for daytime shows,” says C4 head of daytime David Sayer.
He adds: “These shows are also useful in a multichannel world, as they are able to sit on 4seven, More 4 and All 4.”
The other advantage of replacing a long-running show with a range of series is that production can be spread around the country as opposed to coming from one fixed creative base.
This is core to Channel 4’s remit, which is also behind a new, live daily show to be broadcast from its recently announced HQ in Leeds.
“Now that we know where we’ll be, we can think about what sort of show this will be and who the talent will be. It’s an exciting prospect,” says Sayer.
For the BBC, cutbacks have already seen daytime programming reduced. With a further £800m of savings to find, some sources predict that daytime commissions will be cut on BBC One altogether and replaced with repeats – echoing the decision taken in 2011 to save £20m by ditching daytime commissioning on BBC Two.
In the meantime, though, BBC controller of programming and daytime Dan McGolpin has vowed to “modernise” BBC daytime by axing Flog It after 17 years to make way for new shows.
While several of those announced are in the traditional areas of housing, crime and cooking, daytime drama is on the up – with funding from overseas broadcasters underwriting primetime production values on some BBC daytime shows.
These include crime drama The Mallorca Files, co-funded by French and German broadcasters. Meanwhile, Shakespeare & Hathaway – Private Investigators has been recommissioned after becoming the BBC’s biggest daytime drama launch since 2013’s Father Brown.
With a series of international deals on the cards, The Mallorca Files is expected to repeat the success of previous crime dramas Death in Paradise and Father Brown. Both have been sold to more than 200 territories.
Whoever said there was no money in daytime?