EastEnders shocked fans earlier this week when it was revealed that the BBC One soap would undergo a major schedule change.
A bombshell worthy of its own cliffhanger on Doof Doof!
From next month onwards, the long-running serial drama, which recently celebrated its 37th year, will no longer air on Fridays, opting instead for a four-night consecutive run.
It’s a surprising and unexpected move, but it’s one that makes a lot of sense.
Fans of the show have long lamented the lack of a Wednesday episode to bridge the gap between Tuesdays and Thursdays, so a more consistent and concise broadcast schedule is long overdue.
Friday’s episode is also the lowest-rated of the weekly four, so moving it to another night is actually a smart move.
That part of the announcement received a lot of attention. The other part, on the other hand, has been a source of contention!
From March 7, EastEnders will permanently move to a new time slot of 7:30 p.m. On Mondays and Fridays, the soap airs at 8 p.m., and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, it airs at 7:30 p.m.
You might wonder what’s wrong with this new change. Nothing at first glance! Another welcome change is the newfound schedule certainty.
In fact, it’s perfect timing in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, when shortened episodes were tossed around the schedule like a tennis ball.
There is, however, one disadvantage to this gleaming new time slot, and it is a significant one.
EastEnders will now compete directly with Emmerdale.
Is there a soap opera clash? Let the hysteria begin.
Fans were quick to voice their concerns over the BBC’s questionable move, with one branding it ‘massive mistake’, while another claimed it was a ‘stupid’ decision.
For decades, an unofficial gentleman’s agreement has existed between ITV and the BBC, allowing viewers to watch all of the country’s most popular serial dramas without fear of conflict.
Those days, however, are no longer.
After announcing a massive schedule shake-up earlier this year, ITV was the first to break the unspoken agreement, with Emmerdale moving to 7:30pm, followed by an hour-long Coronation Street at 8pm.
The BBC’s swanky new schedule may provide EastEnders with the long-awaited fixed timeslot, but it doesn’t address the issue of fans having to choose between it and an ITV counterpart.
Both EastEnders and Emmerdale’s overnight viewing figures will inevitably be impacted, with EastEnders likely to suffer the most.
Because of the compelling Meena Jutla storyline, Emmerdale has consistently performed well in overnight viewership in recent years, even beating Coronation Street on occasion.
In comparison, EastEnders’ live viewership hasn’t been quite as impressive, though it has remained consistent.
It’s a risky move to pit the two national institutions against one another. You could argue that now is not the time for two of the most well-known soaps to go to war, especially with the loss of Holby City still fresh in the mind and Neighbours’ future uncertain.
It’s a risky move with potentially serious consequences.
On the other hand, you might be debating the relevance of live viewership in this day and age right now. If that’s the case, you’ve made an excellent point.
When the news broke, a source told The Mirror, ‘It’s no longer about the overnight ratings because they don’t reflect the true picture of who’s tuning in.’
This is correct. People’s viewing habits have shifted dramatically since the introduction of catch-up and streaming services, as they now have the freedom to watch whatever they want, whenever they want.
In this regard, the BBC is ahead of the curve, catering increasingly to streaming and catch-up audiences – perhaps even more so than live TV viewers. Peaky Blinders and The Girl Before, for example, were promoted primarily as ‘coming to iPlayer,’ despite the fact that they are also broadcast on television.
Perhaps EastEnders’ new scheduling is proof that the channel believes in the soap’s long-term success, as they are no longer concerned with overnight ratings?
On the BBC iPlayer, EastEnders is surprisingly popular.
‘You only have to look at the figures watching EastEnders on iPlayer to see how incredible the figures are,’ a source told The Mirror.
The serial drama consistently ranks first in the streaming service’s ‘Most Popular’ section, demonstrating that there is still a demand for a daily dose of Walford drama.
In fact, given the show’s obvious online presence, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw first-look episodes drop on iPlayer or BBC Three in the future, ahead of their main broadcast – a model that Hollyoaks will test in the coming weeks.
EastEnders has always thrived on taking risks, and this bold schedule change is no exception. It could backfire, but it could also be a golden opportunity.
In addition to bolstering the show’s online and catch-up presence for those who prefer to watch later, executives are likely to ensure that the show improves its game for those who prefer to watch on television.
Shorter episodes, a lack of a consistent scheduling pattern, and questionable narrative choices have all contributed to the BBC One soap’s decline in recent years.
A change is required, and significant progress has already been made in recent months, especially since full-length episodes have been restored.
Dana is every bit as compelling as the show’s longer-serving mainstays, so the Monroe family’s introduction has been a success.
The serial killer plot involving Gray Atkins has gained steam as it nears its long-awaited conclusion, which will air during the first week of the new schedule changes.
Given how badly everyone wants to see the killer punished, this is a smart move.
The success of this new schedule will, of course, be determined by promotion, so the BBC must concentrate on spreading the word so that viewers are aware of the show’s air dates.
Trailers and a social media campaign are required, with the latter ideally referring to Doctors’ new BBC Two timeslot. Perhaps a large soap trailer to show the network’s commitment to the genre in the future?
Given that new boss, Chris Clenshaw was recently appointed, EastEnders was the subject of much discussion before the big news, so with a new broadcast schedule to boot – not to mention a brand new set – it truly feels like the show is about to enter a new era.
With so much to look forward to in the coming weeks, including the return of Sam Mitchell and Frankie Lewis, as well as Mick Carter’s heartbreaking departure, the iconic soap has all the tools it needs to prove why it’s still a vital part of the television landscape – whether on live TV or not.
Emmerdale will most likely follow suit, stepping up its game and proving why it should be the 7:30pm soap of choice.
But, regardless of which soap wins the age-old ratings war, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of both, and, at the end of the day, if the content is good, viewers will flock to watch it regardless of when it airs. I’m excited to see what both shows have in store for their new timeslots.
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