Election Marathon: how many viewed

The audience ratings

Advertisement that ran in the Hull Daily Mail on 26 September 1959
Advertisement that ran in the Hull Daily Mail on 26 September 1959

Marathon was designed as an information programme. It was directed at a series of particular constituencies. It was advertised in 31 newspapers at a cost of some thousands of pounds. Its aim was to link candidate and constituent, nothing more. On that basis, Granada did not expect a wide audience for any one Marathon programme (directed at, say, five constituencies with an average electorate of 60,000). Nor did Granada know to what extent constituents being addressed would find Marathon a useful service.

The broad answer has been given by Television Audience Measurement (TAM), a marketing research organisation which records audience sizes for ITV. Granada thought these TAM figures encouraging, for they showed that on average more than

200.000 homes were watching Marathon, and at times at least a million people were viewing.

Marathon was on the air a total of 11 hours 41 minutes — in Lancashire 6 hours 3 minutes, and 5 hours 38 minutes in Yorkshire. The biggest audience for any one programme was 332,000 homes in Lancashire on Marathon’s first night, when an average of 24% of the homes were tuned in. In Yorkshire the biggest audience was also on the first night, when 141,000 homes, or 14% tuned in.

The TAM figures also show:

  1. despite the off-peak hours many of the series were viewed by more people than watched the party political broadcast screened in the region earlier in the evening (at 10 p.m.).
  2. every afternoon Marathon programme drew more viewers as it continued. For instance, on Monday Oct. 5 in Lancashire, 4% of the homes were tuned in for the first ten minutes, and 17% for the last four minutes.
  3. except for the first night, the numbers viewing the late night Marathon dropped as the programme continued. Presumably people switched off and went to bed after they had seen their own candidates (BBC had shut down, so there was no alternative programme for viewers to switch to). Never more than 10% switched off — and on Oct. 2 the numbers viewing (15% of the homes at the start, 11.31 p.m.) had fallen by only 2% at the end of the programme, 11.40 p.m.
  4. during the period of Election Marathon, the weekday audience in the Northern region for all party political broadcasts was well above the national average. This suggests tha tpeople in the North, perhaps stimulated by Marathon, may have been taking a greater interest in the General Election.

These TAM figures do not, of course, show the effects of Marathon in any one constituency. So Granada asked Research Services Ltd. to prepare a more detailed selective report. A further report and analysis is being prepared.



‘I do not know the results of Granada’s ‘Operation, Marathon’, but anyone deeply concerned with the relationship between television and the continuation of democratic processes must applaud the effort to prevent political television from becoming too big — from concentrating too much on the national political figures”. — Edward R. Murrow, the world-famous American television reporter, in the second of the British Association Granada lectures at Guildhall, London, on October 19th, 1959.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *