UK lockdown drives surge in TV and streaming viewing | Ratings/Measurement | News | Rapid TV News
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After the population complied with the stay at home order decreed in March 2020, the UK’s TV and streaming industries have enjoyed a surge in popularity, with viewers spending six hours and 25 minutes each day on average watching TV and online video content, research from Ofcom has found.
Ofcom Media nations report 2020 5 Aug 2020
Highlights of the annual study of the nation’s media habits from the UK’s TV and telecoms regulator, the Media Nations 2020 report, include the finding that adults spent two-fifths of their time, a rise of almost a third on the same time a year ago. Furthermore, before disruption hit schedules and revenues the country’s main broadcasters achieved a record audience share.

Public service broadcasters – the BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 – briefly achieved their highest combined monthly share of broadcast TV viewing in more than six years in March (59%), driven by a demand for trusted news programmes as the pandemic grew. The BBC was the most popular source of news and information about Covid-19 – used by 82% of adults during the first week of lockdown. The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 were trusted by around four-fifths of viewers. However, the PSBs were hit badly by the pandemic with interrupted production of soaps, major sporting events and entertainment shows. The report showed that by June 2020 their combined monthly share of broadcast TV viewing fell to 55%, its lowest level since August 2019.

Streaming though was a huge driver of the uptick in overall viewing time. Time on streaming services doubled during the outbreak of the pandemic, as 12 million signed up to new services during lockdown, of whom around three million had never subscribed to one before. Some of these were older viewers who previously watched only broadcast TV. One third (32%) of 55-64 year olds, and 15% of people aged over 65 used subscription streaming services in the early weeks of lockdown – up from 25% and 12% respectively before the pandemic.

People spent twice as much time watching subscription streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video – one hour 11 minutes per day on average in April 2020. The trend was even more pronounced among 16-34s, who streamed for an average two hours each day. The rapidly growing Disney+ direct-to-consumer service rocketed in popularity after its March launch overtaking NOW TV as third most-popular paid-for streaming platform.

Launched on the first day of the UK’s lockdown, Disney+ attracted 16% of online adults by early July, surpassing NOW TV (10%) to become number three streamer behind Netflix (45%) and Amazon Prime Video (39%). It also leapfrogged use of the BBC iPlayer among the youngest audiences. Among children aged 3-11, Disney+ was used in a third of homes (32%) by June – overtaking BBC iPlayer which saw use among these children fall from 26% to 22% during the spring.

That said, broadcasters’ video-on demand services also saw seen some success in lockdown. Dramas Normal People and Killing Eve helped BBC iPlayer attract a record 570 million programme requests in May 2020 – 72% higher than in May 2019. Similarly, Channel 4’s on-demand service, All 4, generated 30% more views among 16-34s in the first two weeks of lockdown; and viewers spent 82% more time on ITV Hub.

As lockdown measures eased towards the end of June, the uplift in viewing to video streaming services and other non-broadcast content held steady, at 71% higher than the year before. In contrast, by the end of June, traditional broadcast TV viewing declined from its peak in early lockdown – falling 44 minutes to 3 hours 2 minutes per day. Ofcom says that broadcast TV viewing is now comparably lower than it was in 2014-2017, although it remains 11% higher than this time last year.

Looking forward, the Media Nations 2020 report warned that the outlook for commercial public service broadcasters PSBs was especially tough, as they managed cost-cutting measures amid financial uncertainty. Ofcom calculated their cumulative revenues declining by 3.5% in 2019 to £2.2 billion, and it expects TV advertising revenues to fall 17-19% in 2020. Yet is added that adoption of streaming services appears likely to continue after lockdown. The overwhelming majority of online adults signed up to Netflix (96%), Amazon Prime Video (91%) and Disney+ (84%) said they plan to keep their subscriptions in the months ahead and more than half of UK adults (55%) say that they will continue to spend the same amount of time watching streamed content in future as they did during lockdown.

Commenting on the research, 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.”