The first +7 viewing figures of the new season cast doubt on the BBC’s iPlayer first strategy

 

This year has seen Doctor Who’s transmission format’s most radical shakeup since its 2005 return as 45 minute episodes. The announcement that episodes would drop first on iPlayer on Friday nights at midnight, before broadcasting as normal on Saturday evenings on BBC One, was initially met with concern on social media. Yet Russell T Davies gave spirited defences of the strategy in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine and elsewhere. However, his vision of kids staying up until 2am as ‘event’ television clearly hasn’t come to pass. The +7 viewing figures for the double bill premiere show most British fans preferred their beds.

Ultimately only a fraction of the audience considers the middle of the night prime Doctor Who viewing time. Space Babies and The Devil’s Chord was watched by 0.14m and 0.12m people on iPlayer respectively, pre-transmission on BBC One. That number would merely be a footnote in the details if the BBC One overnights had maintained their normal level. But instead they fell in a way that caused speculation that maybe large numbers of people had watched the midnight drop after all.

 

Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON) & Captain Poppy in Space Babies,BBC STUDIOS,James Pardon Doctor Who
Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON) & Captain Poppy in Space Babies,BBC STUDIOS,James Pardon

The midnight release combined with Americans logging on social media 18 hours before the average British fan arguably means Doctor Who no longer has ‘appointment TV’ status in the UK

It’s difficult to unwind all the factors that may have played a part in these viewing figures. But certainly, with time-shifting an ever more important part of people’s viewing habits, one of the things holding overnights of any show together is that communal experience. When people rush to their televisions on a Saturday evening to watch Doctor Who it’s to see if first. To be part of the community watching it together with most other people. And, following that, to be part of the same unfolding conversation, whether on wider social media or their own friend groups.

While 140,000 odd people is small as a fraction of the audience, it’s enough to rob that later television showing of its immediacy. It’s an issue exacerbated by the fact that social media, of course, knows few borders. With a 7pm Eastern drop time much more convenient for the average American fan, many British fans were waking up to spoilers all around. To a sense that the fan conversation had already moved past them as they slept.

The result has perhaps been that Doctor Who is no longer appointment television in the UK, but something to get around to watching eventually.

 

The Doctor (NCUTI GATWA) & Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON) visit Abbey Road in The Devil's Chord ,BBC STUDIOS 2023,Natalie Seery Doctor Who
The Doctor (NCUTI GATWA) & Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON) visit Abbey Road in The Devil’s Chord ,BBC STUDIOS 2023,Natalie Seery

The show received strong time-shifting in the week since transmission, but not enough to offset the original low overnight

That’s an interpretation supported somewhat by the +7 viewing figures for the premiere night. Doctor Who is still getting strong time-shifting in the week after transmission. An additional 1.32m people watched Space Babies on catch-up in the week since transmission, bringing it to a total +7 of 4.01m, a 57.3% increase on the overnight. Similarly an extra 1.37m caught up on The Devil’s Chord for a +7 total of 3.91m, a 61.6% increase on the overnight.

This means that Devil’s Chord successfully maintained the audience of the first half of the premiere, dropping just 0.1m (2.5%).

 

Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON), Eric & The Doctor (NCUTI GATWA) in Space Babies,BBC STUDIOS,James Pardon Doctor Who
Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON), Eric & The Doctor (NCUTI GATWA) in Space Babies,BBC STUDIOS,James Pardon. Ruby cuddles Eric in her arms as the Doctor stands next to them, looking into the middle distance with a hopeful expression on his face as they all stand in a space station corridor

The new summer time slot played its part too, as illustrated by Space Babies keeping a Top 10 slot compared to other summer fare

Comparisons to the previous season are less encouraging however. Space Babies’ +7 result is 1.8m (30.1%) lower than the Flux premiere The Halloween Apocalypse. Similarly The Devil’s Chord is down 1.37m (23.8%), season on season, from War of the Sontarans. Of course this is partly due to the shift in schedule from the dark winter months to some of the best summer weather the UK has had so far this year.

This is underlined by the new episodes’ chart positions. The two Flux episodes charted at #8 and #13. Despite getting an average of 1.6m fewer viewers than this year, Space Babies and Devil’s Chord placed much the same – #10 and #12 respectively.

With the weather such a factor, the +28 results next month will make particularly interesting reading. Could the first rainy weekend of the summer lead to a peak time for binge watching? We’ll have to see.

But it’s no wonder this summer slot was not the Bad Wolf team’s first choice. Had the original plan to show these episodes near the start of the year worked out, we might have been looking at very different viewing figures. But a longer than originally expected post-production period ultimately made that option impossible. (Though Blogtor can’t help but speculate that they’ll do everything possible to secure that January slot for next year.)

 

Splice (CAOILINN SPRINGALL), in Boom,BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,James Pardon Doctor Who
Splice (CAOILINN SPRINGALL), in Boom,BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,James Pardon

Overnight viewing figures for Boom are also available

This brings us up to date to last weekend’s Boom. Steven Moffat’s return to Doctor Who has an initial overnight was 2.04m viewers. We won’t know the pre-transmission number until next week but they will presumably be lower than for the premiere. This is down 0.38m (15.7%) from the previous episode. In most circumstances that would be a relatively standard, even modest, drop for a third episode. But with overnight viewing figures this season already lower than normal (Boom is down 1.72m (44.7%) from Once, Upon Time) Doctor Who doesn’t have much room to move.

With the British weather starting to break a little, we may well get our first real sense of its impact with Boom’s +7 next week.

 

Jocelyn (GOLDA ROSHEUVEL),tries to keep Babystation Beta going in Space Babies BBC STUDIOS AND BAD WOLF,Photo by James Pardon Doctor Who
Jocelyn (GOLDA ROSHEUVEL),tries to keep Babystation Beta going in Space Babies BBC STUDIOS AND BAD WOLF,Photo by James Pardon

Official viewing figures for Disney+ might not be available, but chart positions give us a hint of how Doctor Who is performing on the platform

Finally, a word about our more frequently asked question – what about Disney+? UK ratings are compiled by BARB, a completely independent and impartial body. Internationally, however, Disney+ hardly, if ever, gives concrete numbers for its shows. This leaves us a little in the dark with only unreliable hints to go by. Those hints mainly take the form of Doctor Who’s Disney+ chart position in various countries. This means we can only get a sense of how Doctor Who is performing relative to other shows on Disney+. Moreover, these charts are not broken down by episode. So for example, yesterday Doctor Who was the #6 TV show on Disney+ in the United States. But that included all six episodes on the platform, not just Boom. Similarly, The Simpsons is above it at #2 but that includes any new views of every Simpsons episode ever – all 767 of them.

This means we can’t give a solid answer to the question of how each new episode is being received by the international audience. But we can get a sense of the overall vibe, for want of a better word.

With charts updated daily we can say that since Space Babies dropped, Doctor Who has most days been one of Disney+’s top ten most streamed shows in the US. When it does fall out of the Top Ten it’s generally on the Wednesday and/or Thursday. Which does suggest that the weekly drop of new episodes is boosting it each Friday.

 

The Devil's Chord featured a cameo by Strictly Come Dancing stars Shirley Ballas and Johannes Radebe,BBC STUDIOS,James Pardon Doctor Who
The Devil’s Chord featured a cameo by Strictly Come Dancing stars Shirley Ballas and Johannes Radebe,BBC STUDIOS,James Pardon

Since the season began Doctor Who has maintained a near constant presence in the Disney+ Top 10 chart for most countries

Disney+ is available in 150 different countries an exhaustive check is impractical. But a few spot checks tell a similar story around the globe. Doctor Who was #4 in Australia, #3 in Brazil, #9 in Canada, #10 in Estonia, #5 in France, #8 in Germany, #8 in Italy, #9 in Luxembourg, #4 in New Zealand, and so on…

The overall picture then, would seem to be of Doctor Who doing well for Disney+, especially for a show much cheaper to produce that some of its Marvel and Lucasfilm stablemates. But we should also be cautious. Streamers often base their judgements by how many new subscribers they get, and how many of them to link, by some calculation, to a given show. How many people around the world took out a Disney+ subscription because of Doctor Who? More to the point, how many people do Disney think did so?

After decades of being able to be quite precise about Doctor Who’s key performance indicators, we’ve entered a new era where the picture will only become truly clear over time.

 

The TARDIS becomes stranded in a remote Welsh village in 73 Yards (c) BBC/Bad Wolf Doctor Who
The TARDIS becomes stranded in a remote Welsh village in 73 Yards (c) BBC/Bad Wolf

Doctor Who continues at midnight Friday BST with 73 Yards on iPlayer in the UK, and on Disney+ everywhere else except Ireland

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