For some time now, people have been talking about the need to move TV prime time ahead one hour earlier so that viewers have more time to sleep. Naturally, television operators have always shouldered the blame for their programs beginning so late at night. But to what extent are television channels to blame for broadcasting their content so late? Is this normal? What are the causes? Can or should it be changed? All of these questions have an answer, but they are sometimes difficult to resolve practically. Let’s start at the beginning.
Spain is the country with the latest prime time in the world, with access prime time beginning around 8:30-9:30 pm and real prime time at approximately 10:00-10:30 pm. This means it starts between an hour and a half or two hours later than in other countries in the area. Are television stations really responsible for airing their best content so late? To a certain extent, television operators hold the ultimate responsibility, but it is an accumulation of factors that really causes this situation.
The main reasons prime time begins so late are set out below:
–Social and professional schedules. The first factor is that in Spain social and professional schedules cause many people to have dinner very late and prime time doesn’t start until after people have finished having dinner and start watching television, which usually coincides with the time now used by TV channels. It doesn’t make sense to schedule your best TV content at a time you’re not sure people will be watching.
–Lengthier news programs than in other countries in the area. Nightly news programs in other countries (and generally all news programs) do not last longer than 30 or 40 minutes, including sports, so it is easier to start the star content earlier when the programs before them are shorter. In Spain, the majority of nightly news programs last between one hour and an hour and 15 minutes, including sports, although this is due in part to the delayed start of said programs due to the reason one above.
–The bitter fight to lead audiences. The audience war between Atresmedia and Mediaset, and sometimes RTVE’s La 1, makes Spanish prime time a war zone only apt for the most valiant. Small channels fight to specialize in order to fragment the audience as much as possible, while Atresmedia and Mediaset usually employ their entire budgetary arsenal on sports broadcasting rights, films, series, and reality shows to compete with one another and win at the end of the month. In other countries the battle is usually only between two channels, while in Spain it is between three and sometimes five. This promotes finding a way to keep a leading or reliable product on air as long as possible until late into the night.
–The millions of euros spent on this hour. Just one figure: 20,000 euros for 20 seconds. That is the average price paid on an audience-leading channel during prime time, so for large companies, leading these time slots, and above all keeping themselves among the most viewed, is a question of getting a return on that investment. It is, after all, the best–or prime–time and thus any change to the schedule or programming during this period of time is truly risky. Almost no traditional television operator would support making changes that may put their financial earnings at risk. In addition, a television schedule without a great deal of fluctuation in programming ensures regular cash inflows.
–Finally, the evidence provided by the data. The time when most television is watched in Spain is usually at 10:45 pm, according to Kantar Media. One could call into question whether the form of measuring audiences with audimeters and their accessories provided by Kantar Media may be improved, but this is currently the only valid way of measuring television consumption and how advertising rates are set. However, as one Telecinco promotional campaign from 2011 went, “the data say what they say and what they say is…” that 10:45 pm is when most people are watching television, so that is the time when the most prestigious products should be scheduled by television operators.
Having stated the reasons why prime time is so late, a few important aspects should be mentioned. The first is that the main criticism regarding this issue is not about the start of prime time, but rather about the time it ends. Criticism of prime time began when several authorities, then the press, and finally the public (mainly through social media) became alarmed about how late people went to bed after watching their favorite programs and how they were not sleeping enough to wake up well rested the next day. Therefore, everyone assumed that programs could not last any less than they already do, but that they should start earlier, when, compared to other western countries, it is common for prime time programs to last less than one hour for fiction series and 90 minutes for reality shows.
In Spain, on the other hand, it is common for series to last almost two hours and for competition reality shows to last three and a half hours, taking up not only prime time, but also a large part of late night (12:30-2:30 am) in order to enhance the share average. Atresmedia has already committed to having its fiction series not run beyond prime time, ending them before midnight. It is a first step that may have more to do with a good planning and corporate image strategy, but if it turns out well, the other channels will not take long to follow suit with all of their content. This same tactic began with the start of #0 by Movistar+, and has done well so far, but that is a premium channel and the nature of its programming is different from network and public television.
In addition, this begs the question of whether it makes sense to regulate this issue in this day and age when the growth of on-demand, or OTT (over the top) television, such as Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime, and of course the traditional channels’ proprietary platforms allows content to be watched whenever, wherever, and however the audience wishes. The decision to stay awake into the wee hours of the morning to consume an audiovisual product may therefore be a decision entirely up to the viewer; leaving the operators free from blame and responsibility.