Film & TV

Is the Saturday night slot still relevant?

By Abi Dudbridge

The notorious battle of the ratings takes place on our screens every Saturday night, as competitors such as ITV and BBC fight for audiences in the most prestigious slot in the TV weekly schedule. Saturday evening is a comfortable spot for the well-established, well-loved programmes, such as The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing.

However, the way in which we enjoy television is evolving, and the Saturday night slot is arguably losing its significance and aura. Is the prestige of the Saturday night slot dwindling in the modern era? Or is it the programmes themselves that need revamping?

Our most loved, quintessentially British TV favourites have seen ratings slip in recent years, implying that something needs to change. A seemingly pre-packaged formula to success has been adopted by broadcasters, who appear to only entrust traditional ‘competition’ style entertainment programmes with the prestigious Saturday night slot.

Trusting in a new project to launch in the Saturday night slot has become increasingly rare, due to the risk attached to that decision. Long-lasting concepts tend to maintain their status over time, and in the last decade, no other Saturday night programmes have really broken through to become a success in the industry, apart from The Voice, to which the term ‘success’ however, is questionable. It can be argued that Saturday night entertainment has become an act of monotonous forced fun, as broadcasters simply rely on concepts which they know will be a success and will inevitably turn profits.

This week, ITV’s X Factor suffered its worst ratings in its 14-year history, averaging around 3.7 million viewers, emulating that audiences are losing interest in the entertainment structure that happens to be ‘set in stone’ within the industry.

Today, people enjoy TV on many platforms, at all hours of the day. The concept of sitting in front of the family set is becoming alien to new generations, and arguably, TV consumption is becoming less of a group experience and more of an individual activity.

According to OFCOM, children and teenagers are watching a third less broadcast TV on typical sets than they did in 2010, suggesting that kids watch less TV with their family, further widening the gap between consumption habits in the younger and older generations. From this data, it is also possible to speculate what future media consumption may look like – the likes of Netflix and Amazon look likely to overtake the traditional scheduled broadcast structure.

Programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing are constructed for family viewing however, and are not designed to be enjoyed in the seclusion of separate bedrooms. The rise of online TV subscription services like Netflix have played a part in the collapse of Saturday night entertainment as we know it, as viewers are not constrained to the timings and structure dictated to them by broadcast schedules. Therefore, the sit-down experience of Saturday night TV is becoming unrestricted, and less of a necessary weekend family ritual.

Much like in all sectors of the media industry, the consumption of media content is changing rapidly in the technological age, and the rise of the smartphone/tablet is clearly having an effect in the market of broadcast TV.

The pre-packed formula of Saturday night TV, therefore, has seemingly run its course, and audiences are yearning for something unique to be launched onto their TV screens.