Who’s watching what?

1 December, 2016

Farming on the television is proving to be one of the most popular topics among UK and Irish viewers. Notably since Countryfile first graced our screens in 1988 hosted by John Craven, the programme has moved toward record viewing figures reaching more than 8 million people on a Sunday evening. Whilst the wider public are enjoying the programs, how many farmers are watching them and are the most important topics being covered? To provide an insight, The National Farm Research Unit carried out a survey in September of 1,701 farmers (with > 20ha) in the UK and Ireland. More than 78% of the farmers surveyed are watching farming related TV shows regularly. Using Farm Structures Model 2016, The NFRU estimate this to be around 137,000 out of 174,322 farmers (>20ha) in the UK and Ireland. In the United Kingdom, the most popular programme among farmer viewers is Countryfile, taking an estimated 93% of viewership there. The new 12 part BBC2 documentary series This Farming Life, first broadcast in March this year chronicling the lives of five Scottish farmers, took 7% of farmer viewers (4,899 farmers). Only a very small proportion are watching farming content online on YouTube.

Fig 1. United Kingdom: Farming related television programmes watched (% of farmer viewership)

In the Republic of Ireland, Countryfile is also popular at 44% of farmer viewers, however it is RTÉ One’s weekly broadcast of Ear to the Ground that takes the lead with 95% watching on Thursday evening. The Irish production is now in its 24th Series.

Fig 2. Republic of Ireland: Farming related television programmes watched (% of farmer viewership)

Even though large numbers of farmers are watching these programmes, they remain the minority of the total viewership, for example 95,709 farmers out of the more than 6 million viewers who are watching Countryfile each week. An exception is Farming Sunday, broadcast on Horse & Country TV (Sky Channel 253) which targets a farmer audience. With the more mainstream farming programmes catering for a broad audience, some farmers felt there could be more focus on being educational to farmers. For example, a dairy farmer from Gloucestershire with a 140 cow herd highlighted the lack of coverage on practical information to tackle bovine TB. Others felt conservation issues were absent from programming. NFRU Researchers also asked what topics farmers would suggest incorporating into future television shows. Livestock focused stories made up 50% of those suggestions, compared with 10% for arable topics. A further 17% of topics expressed the importance of having farmer focussed stories.

Fig 3. TV Topic Suggestions (% of topics suggested)

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