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French TV viewing figures decline, threatening traditional channels

After a brief lockdown-related rebound, viewer numbers continue to fall, as younger audiences opt instead for streaming platforms and social media

People in France are watching less and less television Pic: Tomas Urbelionis / Shutterstock

The amount of time people in France spend watching television continues to decline, threatening the financial model of traditional TV channels. 

People watched more television in general during the Covid lockdowns, but this rebound in viewing figures was only temporary, and they have now fallen below pre-pandemic levels.

In April, people in France spent an average of three hours and 27 minutes in front of the TV each day, according to audience measurement company Médiamétrie. That is 32 minutes less than in April 2021, and 13 minutes less than in 2019. 

This reflects a continued month-on-month trend: in March, people were watching TV for an average of 22 minutes less each day compared to March 2021, and 10 minutes less than in 2019.

Traditional television is not only experiencing a decline in viewing times, but also in viewer numbers. 

In 2014, 50 million people in France watched television every day, either through a TV set or on another screen. In 2021, that figure had fallen to 44.5 million. 

Over the last 10 years, the drop in viewing times has not been so pronounced, totalling just 4% or eight minutes. However, this can be partly attributed to the two-year-long, pandemic-related spike in 2020 and 2021.

On-demand and rewind viewing, which have been included in Médiamétrie figures since the early 2010s also helped to boost reported audience numbers by about 10 minutes, even if the real amount of TV being watched did not increase.

Over-50s watch more TV than younger generations 

Viewing figures are also being prevented from falling too sharply by the over-50s, who watch more television than younger age groups. 

“Some 68% of today’s real-time television viewing is carried out by people over the age of 50,” Nicolas de Tavernost, CEO of media company M6 Groupe, told the French Sénat in January. “They represented less than 50% in 2010. The evolution is spectacular. 

“The proportion of under-50s falls by 5-10% each year.” 

In 2021, people aged over 50 watched around five-and-a-half hours of television each day, three quarters of an hour more than in 2011.

The average age of television viewers in France is now around 56, according to Médiamétrie. 

This trend can also be observed in Germany, Spain, the UK and the US, where the under-50s have reduced their viewing time by 13%, 14%, 18% and 34% respectively over the last two years. 

What does this mean for channels? 

When there are fewer people watching television, the value of advertising spots on the channel in question falls. As fewer people choose to sit in front of their TV sets, channels are therefore forced to charge companies less for airtime. 

And unfortunately for TV channels, advertising often targets children, young people and stay-at-home mothers, the exact groups who are choosing not to watch as much television.

Stay-at-home mothers, for example, have reduced their consumption by 22% over the last 10 years, and 15 to 24-year-olds have cut their viewing time by around half, going from two hours each day to one. Four to 10-year-olds, for their part, are watching 46% less TV.

A recent study from leisure marketing company Vertigo Research found that, although young people are still looking at screens for up to 60% of their free time, their attention is now occupied more by computer games and social media. 

The survey – which involved 14,000 children aged between 11 and 14 – found that this age group prefers YouTube, PlayStation, TikTok, Netflix, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitch to traditional television channels. The only channel to be listed within their favourites was TF1.

As traditional channels compete over a shrinking piece of the pie, they now also have to contend with streaming platforms such as Netflix and Disney+, which have recently announced that they could soon offer cheaper subscription options combined with advertising. 

“These juggernauts have at their disposal data which is much more useful than that of the traditional channels,” one media sector expert told Le Figaro.

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