Double-ep debuts and stripped shows help linear TV hold firm

Are you watching Bodyguard? More than 10 million people are, after BBC1 got a welcome shot in the ratings arm thanks to Jed Mercurio and World Productions’ taut thriller – and some expert scheduling.

It’s easy to talk up changing viewing habits, especially as most people in the industry subsist on a diet of PVR or catch-up viewing, but the linear schedule is still an integral part of landing a hit.

An opening double-header of episodes on Sunday and Monday of the Bank Holiday weekend got viewers hooked and created a word-of-mouth sensation that helped deliver a hefty 10.4 million consolidated audience.

The BBC also got the show out before ITV could unleash its own high-profile Sunday night drama Vanity Fair – which suffered in overnight terms, despite also airing the first two episodes on consecutive nights.

Vanity Fair may well consolidate strongly after starting with 3 million, but it’s hard not feel its thunder has been stolen.

The strategy of offering up consecutive episodes feels part of a trend. Broadcasters appear more comfortable than ever before with the idea of event-style launches or stripping shows to satisfy viewers’ desire for a quick next fix.

“Bodyguard’s opening episode outperformed the debuts of Sherlock, Call The Midwife, Broadchurch and Downton Abbey”

There are plenty of examples. Studio Lambert’s The Circle is soon to be splashed right across Channel 4 primetime, while Channel 5 found success with Bermuda Triangle: The Mystery Revealed, is running Undercover Girlfriends after Celebrity Big Brother, and is preparing for life without the Endemol format (probably) with plans to strip the return of The Bachelor next year.

BBC4 has also indicated a willingness to replicate podcast true-crime binges and will strip a three-part doc on the Yorkshire Ripper.

Meanwhile, Sky 1 is making fact-ent format The Heist available in its entirety as a box set from day one. The show – conceived as Hunted on steroids – has an ongoing narrative that Sky’s recent forays into entertainment lacked and that the broadcaster hopes will keep viewers watching, in the style of a drama cliffhanger.

The ability to capture the zeitgeist with event TV is traditional broadcasters’ biggest weapon, and the emergence of a big new hit should be welcomed by them all – albeit probably through gritted teeth.

Bodyguard’s opening episode outperformed the debuts of Sherlock, Call The Midwife, Broadchurch and Downton Abbey, which will surely prompt envious glances from ITV’s trendy new Chancery Lane offices. There is some solace at least: World Productions is part of the ITV Studios empire.

Chris curtis

Chris Curtis is the editor of Broadcast