Broadcasters try to stop streamers from stealing Christmas in festive TV battle
Christmas television was once dominated by national treasures including Lenny Henry, Bruce Forsyth and Ronnie Corbett to the delight of families gathered around the lodge for the proposed BBC show.
At its peak in 1988, the Radio Times Christmas special made history as the best-selling UK magazine of all time with a circulation of 11.2 million. It laid the groundwork for Christmas as a vital time for broadcasters to claim their rights in content wars, generate crucial ad revenue, and prove their cultural relevance for the year ahead.
Fast forward a little over three decades and the scenery is unrecognizable. The BBC is now one of a plethora of options for festive viewing, scrambling to get noticed alongside Netflix and Disney.
Yet television viewing in all formats is on the rise as viewers trapped at home for the second year in a row rally around laptops, phones and televisions, while Radio Times readership is once again rising. As competition from advertising and streaming intensifies, traditional broadcasters face one of the greatest tests of their courage to date.
Commercial broadcasters hope Christmas 2021 will be a festive treat. Following the tightening of the purse strings during last year’s lockdown, overall ad spending is expected to increase by nearly Â£ 1 billion in the crucial ‘golden quarter’, compared to last year, to reach the highest level ever. It comes as big advertisers and an increase in investment by e-commerce companies cash in their pandemic gains on brand building.
At the heart of it all is television advertising, often seen as the cornerstone of party campaigns – a trend popularized by John Lewis. The industry body, the Advertising Association, forecasts a 9% increase in TV advertising spending to Â£ 1.56 billion in the last three months of the year – the biggest increase in addition to a decade.