Viceland U.K. Ratings off to "Lackluster" Start, Analyst Says

Courtesy of Vice

Viewing in the target demographic of 16- to 34-year-olds “was noticeably higher than older groups, but still miniscule," but Vice says any ratings judgments are "extremely premature."

Vice Media’s Viceland had “a lackluster” start in the U.K., an analyst said in a Tuesday report, citing audience data for the first two weeks from U.K. measurement organization BARB.

The Sept. 19 start of the linear TV channel in Britain, exclusively on Sky, “followed six months after a similarly underwhelming entrance into the U.S.,” Enders Analysis’ Tom Harrington wrote in a report.

"Judging a new channel on its ratings when it’s just out of the blocks is extremely premature," said a Vice representative. "Looking at Viceland in the U.S. after six months, the average audience age dropped by nearly 20 years, its audience is growing week by week, and our programming is Emmy nominated. In the coming months we expect to mirror the same success here in the U.K. as well."

In the 9 to 11 p.m. time slot, when Viceland U.K. premieres new programming, such as Big Night Out and Black Market, live and viewing on the same day as live in the target demographic of 16- to 34-year-olds “was noticeably higher than older groups, but still miniscule,” according to Harrington. He cited a high of nearly 10,000 viewers in the demo in the first two weeks in the late evening slot.

Viceland U.K.’s overall peak audience reached close to 14,000 in the 9 to 11 p.m. slot slot in its first two weeks, but “on a number of days, zero live viewers were recorded,” Harrington said.

“It is surely early days, but despite strong content, initial results were predictable, considering the challenges,” he said. “Currently being only on Sky, the channel can be reached by less than half of its desired 16-34 demographic, a group that reduced their viewing by 24 percent between 2010 and the first half of 2016.”

He added: “With such challenges, for a channel creating original content, the first two weeks of live viewing figures for Viceland U.K. were, predictably, extremely low.” He also highlighted the “inaccuracy surrounding small viewerships” inherent in BARB data. Critics have often said that BARB doesn't measure young audiences well.

Observers also pointed out that on some nights, Viceland U.K.’s 16 to 34 demo audience was bigger than that of such established channels as MTV, Spike, E! and DMAX. And in the early going, the network's reach outperformed that of A+E Networks' free-to-air channel Blaze, which launched in Britain the same week as Viceland, according to an analyst.

Plus, as part of the multiplatform marketing push around the U.K. channel launch, nearly 3 million people in Britain have watched four full episodes of Viceland content across platforms, according to another data point.

Harrington also had some positives to discuss. “From a content perspective, the outlook is rosier, with the quality of the original programming — and the prospect of more of it — mirroring Vice’s domination of video in its youthful, curious space of the internet,” he wrote. “American programming like Black Market and the Ellen Page-hosted, Emmy-nominated Gaycation are simply, in their scope and bravery, unlike anything currently on the U.K. linear schedule. And the British content, starting off with the hypnotically absorbing The UK Census suggests that the in-house production unit at Vice HQ in Shoreditch are able to make long-form content.”  

Harrington’s conclusion: “Early viewing figures suggest that thoughtful content does not guarantee an audience. And there is little to suggest that Vice, despite a reputation for being able to reach the most sought after demographic, the 16-34s, has little by way of an edge over any of the more established television operators.”

When first U.S. ratings came in for A+E upstart Viceland, the news was also mixed. Total viewership was down from the highs of retired predecessor H2. Premiere telecasts, however, were faring better. Plus, the average age of the Viceland audience was 17 years younger than that of H2 in the early going, with the median viewer age down to 40. Premiere episode audiences of roughly 100,000 viewers aged 18 to 49 put Viceland programming between softer first-run cable fare like Showtime's Dice and IFC's late Maron in terms of early linear appeal.