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Traditionally, Saturday night TV has focussed on providing light-hearted programming that is appropriate for the entire family: planet hopping timelords and music stars in the making have historically been the main orbiters in this Saturday evening TV universe.

But 2017 may be the year this model is broken apart. Early indications of ballooning SVOD budgets and experimental slots hint at a year of disruption that may begin to change the way we think about – and what we can expect from – Saturday night TV.

Saturday Night TV has traditionally catered to families

Saturday night TV is still considered by many UK viewers to be an essential part of the family bonding experience.

In an interview for the Standard, Gogglebox’s Scarlett Moffatt managed to capture the spirit of Saturday evening programming, describing it as the time when British families are coming together and “having a takeaway, just having a laugh… Not having a worry in the world, just sat in your jim-jams.”

While 2016 has seen the waning of The Voice and X-Factor (the latter reporting the lowest figures for a finale in its 12 year run), the great successes of BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing (garnering a 13.6m peak audience for its Saturday final) and the second series of Michael McIntyre’s Big Show (picking up 5.6m viewers on its Christmas Eve final – ahead of the 2.9m that watched its first season conclusion) point to a continued appetite for Saturday night entertainment programmes that the entire family can enjoy.

In contrast, Sunday night has generally been reserved for more dramatic fair. The Night Manager had its much-lauded run in an end-of-weekend slot (bringing in 8.3m viewers) as did Attenborough’s Planet Earth II debut (attracting 9.9m viewers at its peak, and teaching a whole generation why they should be deathly afraid of snakes in the process – see below).

As we move into the new year, however, it is undeniable that change is in the air.

“There’s a hole in the TV landscape” – Netflix takes aim at family content

At this point, detailing the negative impact that SVOD services like Netflix have had on linear TV consumption seems superfluous. It is generally accepted that the rise of new, multi-platform VOD services has led to the decline of TV viewing around the globe.

To quote one of many coffin-nail-esque statistics, it seems that Netflix was responsible for a solid 50% of the decline in US linear TV viewing in 2015. Declining ad-spend on linear TV in the UK (-1.5% in 2016) – with a corresponding 17.1% ad growth on VOD services – further indicates the industry shift from a broadcast to digital focus.

Yet things might be about to get a bit worse for the linear market.

Netflix has earmarked $5 billion for the creation of original, family-centric content. Netflix’s VP of Family Content, Brian Wright sees this as addressing a notable “hole” in the market – but will this new content-plug put the squeeze on family-friendly Saturday night TV?

Taking the ‘Saturday’ out of Saturday Night TV

Although the show has now split from the BBC (a move we discussed in Hook’s blog on channel brand last year), The Great British Bake Off brought a sweet glaze of Saturday Night TV to midweek.

Attracting an audience of 14 million to its 2016 finale, GBBO was the most watched show of 2016 – beating weekend heavy-hitters like Strictly’s finale for the top spot – even though it fell on a Wednesday night.

As schedules start to shift and change in response to external pressures, will traditional slots begin to evolve as well?

Saturday Night TV - Hook Research“People are ready for a new Saturday night experience”

The BBC may be reading the changing winds, with the scheduling of Tom Hardy’s violent Taboo for Saturday evenings. While the name alone is enough to indicate how far of a departure this show is from mid-weekend, family-centric entertainment, reviewers’ descriptions of the show as ‘gritty’ reiterate the visceral topics explored in the series.

The BBC’s Charlotte Moore has name-checked the success of European dramas on BBC4 Saturday nights as a basis for the slot change: a Scandi-noir show like Modus – which attracted a respectable 554,000 for its Saturday evening finale in December – provides a clear test-case for this new weekend experiment. And with one episode released so far (by the time of this publication), Taboo’s Saturday slot might be paying off: the premiere attracted 4.8m viewers, 0.3m above the slot average.

That doesn’t mean that the BBC are giving up on traditional Saturdays entirely: even though Gary Barlow has labelled his new talent show Let it Shine as “a new Saturday night experience”, the programme still hits the high notes of traditional, family-focussed Saturday Night TV. Additionally, a new Mrs. Brown’s Boys spinoff is set to continue the evening’s entertainment focus later this year.

Continuing the conversation

Despite classic family and big entertainment remaining a part of Saturday schedules, it looks like there’s change ahead for Saturday night TV in 2017. As how, when, and where we watch programmes develops and changes, linear providers will need to continue to experiment to ensure that they are meeting audiences’ new expectations.

At Hook Research, we are continuing to explore what UK audiences are looking for in great TV content, and we will be releasing an original piece of research in the next few months.

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Each month, Hook's experts create a roundup of hot takes and insights into the Kids and Media industries... for free!

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Each month, Hook's experts create a roundup of hot takes and insights into the Kids and Media industries... for free!

This information will never be shared with third parties.