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Luther and the Box Setters: Profiling a New Viewer-Type

In our last blog we looked at Full-timers, series-loyal fans that watched every episode of the new series. This month we look at an emerging viewer-type, the Box Setters.

Box Setters have always existed, but they used to be a more exclusive group. We all had a friend with an impeccable collection of TV series box sets, Grey’s Anatomy, The Sopranos, The Wire.

But, back then it required some dedication. Investment of time and money. While it may still take up a lot of time, the trend for online ‘box sets’ has made re-watching old series far easier.

BBC’s Box Sets

The BBC recently petitioned that Ofcom allow them to keep content on the iPlayer for at least a year. This followed a release of over 100 box sets to the iPlayer for the festive season, among these were the first four series of Luther.

With Christmas day live viewing at its lowest in years, the box sets presented an alternative way to fill your holiday with content.

While Netflix and Prime may be a Box Setter’s go-to platform, the beloved British content made by the Beeb isn’t always available on the UK Netflix. Although it’s worth noting that Netflix bought the rights to show dramas such as Sherlock, Peaky Blinders and Luther in some territories.

The viewing to the Beeb’s festive box sets was substantial, and Luther was the shining jewel in the iPlayer’s pixelated crown.

Luther Leads

For all individuals, the top 20 viewed programmes were principally occupied by the first series of Luther. However, all series stirred up impressive numbers. They averaged over a million viewers each and attracted some Full-timers, too.

On average, viewers of Luther box sets watched at least 7 episodes, that’s around two series a pop. There’s also a strong link between being a Box Setter and viewing to the new series.

Series 5 of Luther premiered daily as well as offering extra-series engagement through the availability of the previous box sets.

These strategies paid off.

45% of those who watched series 1-4 on iPlayer tuned in for the linear broadcast of new Luther, that’s nearly 2 million viewers! 74% of these viewers then watched at least half of the new series.

Box Setters were also more likely to watch the new series than an average person – Luther series 5 achieved a much higher share with them than with all individuals.

All the above translated into more a stable Box Setters’ viewing trend from episode to episode in comparison with the general audience trend.

Source: Analysis by Digital-i based on BARB data (including panel-level data)

Box Setter Mind-Set

Not all Box Setters watch for the same reason. It’s common sense to think that viewers may want to re-watch older episodes in preparation for the broadcast of a new series. In fact, the mission behind making these episodes available is to garner a larger following, stir up interest for the new series, as well as increase programme reach.

However, with this Lutherian example, the highest levels of Box Setter viewing to old Luther episodes did not occur over the festive period, peak viewing wasn’t just before the airing of series 5…

We’ve found that viewers flocked to former Luther during and just after the airing of the new episodes.

What does this mean?

It means that viewing habits are not as easily discernible as schedulers might like them to be.

We can hypothesise two potential causes for this type of viewing.

Viewers may want to catch up with the story while they wait for the new episodes of Luther to be broadcast, ready to consume the new material at their own flexibility. Perhaps, ready to binge over the weekend (hence the peak at Saturday and Sunday 5th and 6th of Jan).

Another potential explanation is that Box Setters do not simply use older episodes to refresh their idea of the story before they get to the next chapter, but that the new episodes rekindle their interest in the programme and its characters.

That’s to say, perhaps the relationship between box set and new episodes isn’t as simple as the former increases loyalty and generates an audience for the latter.

Perhaps, new episodes of a programme draws up more interest and engagement with the content, meaning that more viewing to the iPlayer was generated by the new episodes of Luther as well as the opposite being true for some viewers.

Analysis by Digital-i based on BARB data (including panel-level data)

It’s important to update the way we look at viewer segments as behaviour and technology interface to take us into a new generation of audio-visual content.

By looking at how Full-timers and Box setters viewed Luther, we can better understand the audience we’re dealing with and produce and schedule content to maximise convenience and viewer engagement.

If you want to know more about the types of viewers your programmes and channels are attracting and how they prefer to interact and engage with linear and non-linear content, contact Matt Ross at

In a data-heavy world, Digital.i is here to help curious TV innovators understand the behaviour behind numbers.

Words by Sophia Vahdati

Research by Matt Ross and Dina Sayko

We’ve worked with some great companies

  • BBC
  • ITV
  • Channel 4
  • Channel 5
  • Dave
  • Sky
  • Virgin