• People spent average of 6 hours 25 minutes a day watching AV content in April
  • SVOD viewing sees greatest growth during lockdown
  • Disney+ judged to have made greatest impact of new market entrants

young children watching tv


Changing viewing behaviour during the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+, according to Ofcom’s latest annual study of the UK’s media habits, Media Nations 2020.

In April 2020, when the UK was in full lockdown, the average amount of time people spent watching audiovisual content increased to an estimated 6 hours 25 minutes per person per day. This is an hour and a half more than the average figure for 2019.

Most of this viewing was on broadcaster television (an average of 3 hours 46 minutes a day watching live, recorded or on demand) – up by 32 minutes on 2019, with most of the increase due to news viewing.

However, the greatest growth was in subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+, with people in the UK watching an average of 1 hour 11 minutes a day on these services in April 2020 – 37 minutes higher than in 2019.

Young adults aged 16-34 watched these services for two hours a day on average.

As lockdown measures eased, broadcast TV viewing fell, but by the end of June was still 11% higher than in the same week in 2019.

However, TV set viewing of SVOD and other non-broadcaster content (including YouTube and video games) retained much of its lockdown uplift and was up 71% year on year in the last week of June.

Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s Strategy and Research Group Director said: “Lockdown led to a huge rise in TV viewing and video streaming.

“The pandemic showed public service broadcasting at its best, delivering trusted news and UK content that viewers really value. But UK broadcasters face a tough advertising market, production challenges and financial uncertainty. So, they need to keep demonstrating that value in the face of intense competition from streaming services.”

SVOD growth
An estimated 12 million online adults took up a new SVOD subscription during lockdown, with around 3 million subscribing for the first time.

Some of these new SVOD users were in older age groups, who typically watch a lot more broadcast TV than younger people. Almost a third (32%) of 55-64-year-olds used SVOD services in the early lockdown period, up from 25% pre-lockdown, while 15% of over-64s used them (up from 12%).

Ofcom said that competition in subscription video-on-demand services has intensified, with Disney+ making the biggest impact among several new market entrants.

Before lockdown, 53% of UK households already subscribed to SVOD services, with 15 million homes subscribing to at least one of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or NOW TV in the first quarter of 2020.

Disney+’s launch date of 24 March (the start of UK lockdown) supported rapid take-up that saw it surpass NOW TV to become the third most-subscribed-to SVOD service – 16% of online adults had subscribed by early July.

Netflix was subscribed to by 45% of online adults at this time, and Amazon Prime Video by 39%.

The vast majority (95%) of Disney+ subscribers also subscribe to one or both of the two main SVOD services, meaning that it has proved largely supplementary to them so far.

The importance of PSBs
Elsewhere, Ofcom said that the Covid-19 crisis has reinforced the importance of public service broadcasters as trusted providers of news and information.

Demand for news programming helped the PSBs to achieve their highest combined monthly viewing share in more than six years in March 2020, when they captured 58.8% of broadcast TV viewing.

BBC services were the most-used source of news and information about Covid-19, with eight in ten (82%) people saying they used them for this purpose in the first week of lockdown, well ahead of other broadcasters, social media and other sources.

The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 were each rated as trusted sources of news and information by more than eight in ten people at the start of lockdown.

The Ofcom report said that broadcasters face significant challenges as they seek to overcome financial and scheduling challenges to better compete for audiences.

The boost in PSB audience figures driven by increased viewing of news programming was short-lived. By June 2020, PSBs’ combined viewing share had fallen to 54.6%, its lowest level since August 2019, with the lack of soaps and the loss of key sporting events and entertainment programmes keenly felt.

Pauses in production will leave gaps in schedules for some time to come, noted Ofcom, with the absence of key programming more apparent for broadcast channels than the SVOD services they are competing with, which have deeper on-demand content libraries to rely on.

Covid costs
Pay-TV broadcasters suffered from the absence of premium sport, but its return is helping them better compete for audiences once again. The resumption of Premier League football in June 2020 boosted multichannel broadcasters’ combined monthly viewing share to 30.3%, up from 27.9% in March.

The outlook for commercial PSBs is especially tough, as they manage cost-cutting measures amid financial uncertainty. Their cumulative revenues declined by 3.5% in 2019 to £2.2bn, and an expected decline in TV spot advertising of between 17% and 19% in 2020 will increase pressure on them.

Revenue from online video advertising will be increasingly important. Broadcaster video-on-demand (BVoD) ad revenue has increased by an average of 24% a year in real terms between 2015 and 2019, reaching £452m last year.

However, this has not been enough to fully counteract the larger decline in TV spot advertising.

Ofcom said that radio listening was broadly resilient during lockdown, but the sector will need to weather the advertising market downturn exacerbated by Covid-19.

Although an estimated 14% of online adults stopped listening to the radio in the first few weeks of lockdown – with reduced in-car listening and the closure of workplaces the biggest influencers of this – its share of overall audio listening time remained stable, at 70%.

For young people, the amount of audio time accounted for by radio decreased with lockdown, from 27% beforehand to 18% during, with more time given to music-video channels/sites, audiobooks and podcasts.

YouTube was used by 75% of online adults in the first two months of lockdown, with many using it to listen to music – among all genres of content watched/listened to on the platform, music was the most popular, accessed by a third of all online adults.

Ofcom also noted that radio broadcasters will be affected by reduced radio advertising expenditure, which fell by 3% in real terms over 2019 to £703m, with a further decline of 21% forecast for 2020.

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