Ratings Up After Channel 2 Split, but Everyone’s a Loser

Now, in a TV market split three ways instead of two, viewership at all the channels is down by double digits

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A billboard for Keshet in Tel Aviv, Nov 7, 2017
A billboard for Keshet in Tel Aviv, Nov 7, 2017Credit: Eyal Toueg

Israel’s commercial broadcasters had something to celebrate Wednesday as the first ratings since Channel 2 split last week. But the numbers also showed trouble ahead for the state’s newly more competitive television market.

Total ratings for the commercial broadcasters — Keshet on channel 12, Reshet on 13 and Channel 10 now on channel 14 — soared 30% in the first week of November after the split. That was far more than the 25% of the most optimistic forecasts.

But in a market now divided three ways instead of two, individually the channels suffered double-digit drops from their average in the 10 months before the industry shake-up.

Reshet was the biggest loser, with its audience share dropping 29% to 10.6%. Keshet held the No. 1 spot among the channels, but its audience share plunged 22% to 13.8%. Channel 10’s viewer share fell 18% to 6%, while state broadcaster Kan saw its audience share drop 24%, to just 2.3%.

Under the government-mandated change, Keshet and Reshet, which had shared Channel 2, were forced to split from November 1. The hope was to increase competition, but industry figures doubted Israel’s tiny market can support so many players.

While first-week ratings were up sharply, the increase was at least partly due to viewers’ curiosity, which is likely to decline over time, especially as popular reality shows like “The X Factor” and “Kokhav Nolad,” the Israeli version of “American Idol,” finish their seasons.

Another cause for concern is that broadcasters inflated their ratings by cutting the number of minutes of commercials during prime time, from 8:00 P.M. to 11:00 P.M. Reshet cut its ad time by 23% to 27 minutes during prime time, Channel 10 trimmed its minutes by 15% and Keshet 13%.

“Everyone reduced the amount of advertising, even though there was a lot of demand for more from advertisers. They acted aggressively in order to improve their short-term ratings, but they can’t keep doing it over the long run,” said an ad industry source who asked not to be named.

The logic is that viewers switch channels or even turn off their sets during ads, lowering overall ratings, so that all other things being equal less ad time increases measured viewership. But eventually the broadcasters will have to increase ad minutes again or sacrifice revenues.

Another worrying trend in the November ratings is that the three commercial broadcasters didn’t attract new TV viewers so much as they stole them from cable and satellite channels. In the first 10 months of the year, viewership is evenly split between the commercial broadcasters and cable/satellite channels that show movies or sports. But in the first week of November, the broadcasters captured 57% of viewers.

All told TV viewership rose from an average of 58.3% in the January to October period to 61.4% in the first week of November.

Even with its ratings down, Keshet continues to dominate the market, as evidence by the evening news broadcast. Keshet and Reshet continue to jointly broadcast the news but even though they are showing the same content, Keshet’s ratings were 50% higher.

Industry sources said part of its advantage is sits strong brand but the other part is that it airs on channel 12, a spot for which it paid the government 25 million shekels ($7.1 million).

“It seems that the 25 million shekels it paid for channel 12 was worth every shekel,” said one senior TV executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The default channel for viewers is 12 and we’re seeing that with the joint [news] broadcast.”