Could the decline in viewership and negative publicity spell the demise of daytime television in the UK?
Upon initial observation, daytime television appears to remain unchanged. Real estate agents discuss the value of unexciting apartments, Countdown participants concoct inappropriate terms, and strange discussions persist on current events shows. Recent instances include: “Is it acceptable to allow a dog to urinate on someone’s property?” and “Has Halloween become overly sexualized?”
Upon closer examination, daytime television is facing difficulties and has been for some time. The issues arose when Channel 5 unexpectedly cancelled the popular Australian soap Neighbours, leading to a highly-publicized finale (although it was later picked up by Amazon). Additionally, ITV’s This Morning, a popular daytime show, lost its appeal. This began with backlash over a dystopian trivia game where viewers competed for their energy bills to be paid, and allegations that hosts Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby jumped ahead in line to see the Queen lying in state. The situation ended with Schofield resigning due to an affair and Willoughby stepping down after a failed kidnapping attempt.
Recently, there have been negative developments for daytime television. The long-running BBC show “Doctors”, often enjoyed while having soup on a day off, was abruptly cancelled after 23 years and over 4,500 episodes. Shortly after, Channel 4 also announced the end of another popular daytime program, “Steph’s Packed Lunch”, which will conclude at the end of 2023. “Doctors” will follow suit in December 2024.
Not everything is negative. BBC Breakfast continues to have strong ratings, and the addition of the magazine show Morning Live has been well-received. However, BBC Two, which previously had its own current affairs program hosted by Victoria Derbyshire, now only airs BBC News and BBC Radio 5 Live until midday. Interestingly, daytime programming is now extending into the evening hours. Recently, it was announced that Hollyoaks will be moving to E4, as most viewers watch on that channel or online first. In its place, Four in a Bed, a show where B&B owners make passive aggressive comments about each other, will air – a show typically associated with daytime viewing.
What is happening? While This Morning could see an increase in viewers if it has a presenting team as successful as Phil and Holly – since the show still reaches millions through viral online clips – most daytime shows are losing their audiences to other options. Channel 4 stated that changing audience behaviors was a contributing factor in the cancellation of Steph’s Packed Lunch, which occurred shortly after Ofcom reported the largest decrease in live broadcast television viewing since records began. This decrease is not only affecting younger viewers, but also older viewers who are typically associated with daytime television. As audiences do not typically catch up on daytime shows through streaming sites, this poses a problem for their viewership numbers.
The cancellation of the show “Doctors” is due to a financial challenge faced by television. The government has frozen the BBC licence fee until April 2024, while inflation is high. The cost of drama production has risen significantly, leading the BBC to justify cancelling “Doctors” by citing “super inflation in drama production”. In addition, the BBC announced that it will be cutting 1,000 hours of original programming this year, forcing them to carefully consider what to produce. Commercial channels are also facing difficulties with advertising revenue, causing them to make strategic decisions about what to commission.
The risk, however, with cutting shows such as Doctors is not just what it will mean for fans, but what it will do to future careers. The soap is essentially a training school for actors, with past storylines featuring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jodie Comer, Eddie Redmayne and Nicholas Hoult before they became household names. It has also been a training ground for people behind the camera, becoming a rite of passage for many directors, script writers, producers and others on their way to an established theatre, television or film career.
Television needs to reflect changing viewing habits, and at a time of tighter budgets, the channels need to spend accordingly. But if opportunities for the next generation to hone their craft and build a name for themselves disappear, then talent won’t have the chance to come through. That is bad for all television, no matter when it airs – so it is to be hoped that broadcasters can find a way to revamp daytime TV to work for viewers as well as the next wave of television superstars. And if they can fit in the odd bizarre TV debate, all the better.