Public service broadcasting comes into its own

By Jamie Williams

In the last few weeks newspapers sales have reversed their long-term decline and TV news viewing figures surged to the highest levels in decades.   

The big winner is the BBC – could it be that coronavirus has just saved the licence fee?  Only a month ago there was serious talk about the end of the corporation as we knew it, today it’s re-established its position as central to our national life, countering confusion and misinformation through communicating the latest health and isolation advise to the public. Its favoured over its competitors, with more than 15.4 million tuning in to the Prime Minister’s lockdown broadcast on BBC One, compared to 5.7m for ITV. 

The popularity of other broadcasters has boomed too. Never before have so many tuned in to watch Piers Morgan fight guests on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, with a whopping 60% increase in viewers as 5 million now turn in each morning.  Radio figures have seen a similar trend: LBC audiences has increased by 30 percent week-on-week since the beginning of March.

As the lockdown began, the national press moved swiftly, offering customers free deliveries. The result? Readership flourished. The Times circulation has increased by 10% over the past few weeks. The Guardian are selling over 28,000 additional daily copies since the crisis began.

The picture is not all positive. Local news has taken a hit, with regional papers suffering a sharp decrease in advertising spending. JPI Media, the publisher of Scotsman and Yorkshire Post, announced yesterday that is has temporarily suspending printing.

How this leaves the post-coronavirus media landscape is uncertain. When things return to normal will we revert to taking news from Facebook and Twitter?  I like to think that at a time when trust in the media is at an all-time low, the COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated the main stream media’s central role in educating the public and holding those in power to account.

Jamie Williams is a Senior Executive at Newgate Communications and has recently returned from a sabbatical where he was working on Rory Stewart’s campaign for the London Mayoralty.

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