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March 17, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:03am

Coronavirus leads to ‘staggering demand’ for trusted TV news

By Charlotte Tobitt

The BBC News Channel has recorded its biggest weekly audience since 2015  as a result of its coronavirus coverage, while Channel 4 News’ audience has “effectively doubled” in ten days.

ITV News has also reported higher than usual audiences across all its programmes, as “people look to public service broadcasters… for clarity” on the latest measures to help fight the pandemic.

All four news bulletins on both BBC One and the BBC News Channel saw their biggest week of the year so far last week, according to a spokesperson.

The BBC News Channel reached a total of 11.7m viewers across the entire week, which was 70 per cent higher than its average for 2019 and the channel’s biggest week since 2015.

BBC News at Six had an average audience of 5.2m adults between Monday to Friday, 27 per cent higher than its average for last year.

BBC News at Ten had an average of 4.1m adults, 22 per cent higher than 2019. BBC News at One and BBC Breakfast were also more than ten per cent up on last year’s figures.

The BBC also said its 10.30pm regional bulletin on Sunday had an average audience across England of 4.5m, an increase of 44 per cent week-on-week and 49 per cent year-on-year.

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Last week was the BBC News website’s biggest week ever for UK visitors, with more than 70m unique browsers. All of the ten most-read stories were about coronavirus.

A spokesperson said this was 36 per cent higher than the website’s previous record week of the general election in December 2019.

Channel 4 News

On average, 78 per cent more people watched Channel 4 News at 7pm on Saturday than they did in the same slot last year, as the programme reached an average viewership of 1.3m people.

Channel 4 News editor Ben de Pear said: “Our TV viewership has effectively doubled in the past ten days and we have the biggest social media following of any UK news programme, illustrating a staggering demand for the news met by a staggering lack of government engagement.”

Channel 4 News, which is now operating with a “skeleton staff” in its London office, has also seen unprecedented viewership on its digital channels, with 20m watching over the past week.

The last five days were the top five watched days for Channel 4 News on Youtube since it launched on the platform, with half of that audience aged between 16 and 34.

Head of digital Mike Deri-Smith said the figures showed how it is “traditional public service programme content and the longer form expert interview that people want to watch”.

He added that more than 100m minutes had been watched in the past week, with people watching for more than five minutes on average.

Channel 4 News’ biggest videos were an interview with a British man who survived coronavirus in Wuhan, and another with the chief executive of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations saying “war is an appropriate analogy” for the outbreak.

ITV News

ITV News audience figures from the past ten days were also up, with the biggest rise at the lunchtime bulletin on Friday, up 63 per cent to 957,000 viewers.

Yesterday the lunchtime news reached 1.2m, almost a quarter (22 per cent) higher than its average Monday audience for the year so far and its biggest weekday audience since 1 February 2019.

ITV News at Ten saw its third biggest audience of the year so far last night at 2.5m. It averaged 2m viewers last week.

The biggest ITV news bulletin of the week was its 5pm programme last Tuesday, which received 4.1m – up 11 per cent year-on-year.

ITV News acting editor Rachel Corp said: “We know that in these times people look to public service broadcasters like ITV News for clarity and I am proud that we continue to be able to provide this.

“We are currently reporting from different international locations, including from China, where our Asia correspondent Debi Edwards continues to do an outstanding job.

“We’ve also been able to support our TV programmes with online FAQ shows with our correspondents and experts which have helped to build greater understanding in this continuously changing story.”

Yesterday’s Good Morning Britain grew by 14 per cent year-on-year to 900,000 viewers, its seventh biggest audience ever and its biggest since the morning after December’s general election.

The programme last week had its biggest weekly reach since the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017.

Online, ITV News has seen 110 per cent year-on-year growth in users to its site and a 30 per cent increase in its Youtube impressions.

Its interactive map which is updated daily to show where coronavirus is in the UK has been viewed 2m times.

Sky News

Sky News head of news John Ryley said it saw “significant audience increases” last week, reaching 34.5m users across all its platforms.

Each weekday last week an average of 3.1m people watched Sky News, a figure that was up to 4m each day at the weekend.

Ryley said “these record figures reflect the trust the British public places in the accuracy and independence of established news organisations during epoch – defining times”.

Ryley described coronavirus as “one of the most significant news stories Sky News has reported on its 31-year history”.

He added that the channel “has a clear role to keep our audiences and users well informed with fact based non – stop journalism and clear analysis across our digital, television and audio platforms”.

Picture: Reuters/Simon Dawson

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