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Brits: More time spent on media and comms than sleep

Fifteen million UK Internet users have undertaken a ‘digital detox’ in a bid to strike a healthier balance between technology and life beyond the screen, according to major new Ofcom research which also suggests that UK adults are spending eight hours 45 minutes on media and communications each day on average – more time than they do sleeping.

The study of 2,025 adults and 500 teenagers reveals how our reliance on the Internet is affecting people’s personal and working lives, leading many to seek time away from the web to spend time with friends and family.

Ofcom’s Communications Market Report 2016 finds that one in three adult Internet users (34 per cent), equivalent to 15 million people in the UK, has sought a period of time offline, with one in ten (11 per cent) doing so in the last week alone.

Of these digital down-timers, 25 per cent spent up to a day Internet-free; 20 per cent took up to a week off; and 5 per cent went web-free for up to a whole month.

The most common reasons for taking a ‘tech timeout’ were to spend more time doing other things (cited by 44 per cent) and more time talking to friends and family (38 per cent).

Many people found their time offline to be a positive experience: a third (33 per cent) said they felt more productive, 27 per cent found it liberating, while a quarter (25 per cent) enjoyed life more. However, 16 per cent experienced a ‘fear of missing out’ (‘FOMO’) while on the web wagon, 15 per cent felt lost and 14 per cent ‘cut-off’.

Millions of holiday-goers are purposely abandoning technology. Thirty per cent of UK adults have done some form of digital detox holiday. Sixteen per cent of UK adults have purposely visited a destination with no Internet access, while 9 per cent have intentionally travelled to a place with neither Internet nor mobile phone coverage.

Online revolution

Ofcom’s report shows that faster Internet access is more widely available than ever before, with take-up of superfast broadband and 4G on the increase.

By the end of last year, 9.2 million fixed broadband connections were superfast – increasing from 7.1 million in 2014.

4G accounted for almost half of all mobile subscriptions (46 per cent or 39.5 million connections), up from 28 per cent (23.6 million) in 2014, while 97.8 per cent of UK homes and businesses had 4G coverage from at least one provider.

Some 71 per cent of UK adults now own a smartphone – up from 66 per cent a year ago – and it remains the most popular device for accessing the Internet.

People are better connected than ever before, meaning they can spend more time doing what they love online – such as watching the latest on-demand series, or chatting with friends and family via instant messaging services, both of which have seen a recent surge in popularity.

Three in four Internet users (75 per cent) consider the web ‘important’ to their daily lives. Nearly eight in 10 (78 per cent) agree it helps keep them up-to-date about current affairs and social issues, while almost two thirds (63 per cent) credit it with inspiring them to try new things such as travel destinations, restaurants, recipes or entertainment.

Half (51 per cent) of all Internet users agreed that, because of the Internet, they never feel bored, while 82 per cent feel that communicating over the web has made life easier.

Connectivity creep

As a result of the Internet’s importance in many people’s daily lives, adult users in the UK currently spend an average of one day per week (25 hours) online; 42 per cent say they go online or check apps more than 10 times a day, while around one in 10 (11 per cent) access the Internet more than 50 times daily.

Most Internet users (59 per cent) even consider themselves ‘hooked’ on their connected device – while a third (34 per cent) admit they find it difficult to disconnect.

Many people are, however, facing up to the consequences of spending too much time online, and recognising how this can affect their work and personal lives.

Nearly half of Internet users (49 per cent) said they were guilty of ‘connectivity creep’ – spending longer online than they originally intended each day, while 37 per cent said the same of social media.

As a result, almost half (48 per cent) neglected housework; 47 per cent said they had missed out on sleep or were tired the next day; while 31 per cent had missed out on spending time with friends and family.

‘Tech tardiness’ was another reported side effect. One in five users (22 per cent) admitted being late for a meeting with friends or family, and 13 per cent late for work, as a result of being online too long. One quarter of teens (26 per cent) had been late for school, while six in 10 teenagers (60 per cent) said they’d neglected school work.

Perhaps as a consequence, many parents are limiting their children’s time online. Six out of 10 (61 per cent) teenagers who use a connected device such as a smartphone or tablet reported being digitally ‘grounded’, having had their device taken away, or its usage restricted.

People also reported a lack of ‘netiquette’ from strangers who can’t seem to put their devices down. A quarter of UK adults (25 per cent) complained that someone bumped into them in the street at least once a week because they were too busy looking at their phone.


Our attachment to our connected devices is also getting in the way of face-to-face communication, according to the research.

Four in 10 UK adults (40 per cent) felt they’d been ‘smart-snubbed’ (ignored by a friend or relative too engrossed in their smartphone or tablet) at least once a week; while 17 per cent said this happened on a daily basis.

The research also suggests some people are choosing to text or instant message friends and family instead of talking face-to-face, even though they’re sitting in the same room. Just over a quarter of UK adults (26 per cent) said this occurred at home, while a third of teenagers (32 per cent) have done so at school.

Jane Rumble, Director of Market Intelligence at Ofcom said: “The Internet has revolutionised our lives for the better. But our love affair with the web isn’t always plain surfing, and many people admit to feeling hooked.”

“So millions of us are taking a fresh look at the role of technology in our lives, and going on a digital detox to get a better tech-life balance.”

Ofcom’s Communications Market Report 2016 is a comprehensive annual study of the UK’s Internet, telecoms, broadcasting and postal sectors. The report acts as a reference for industry and consumers, and provides context and evidence for Ofcom’s work in making communications services work for everyone.

Instant appeal of instant messaging

This year’s report shows a surge in the use of instant messaging in the UK. The proportion of adults using services such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp at least once a week rose from 28 per cent in 2014, to 43 per cent in 2016 – the biggest increase across all communications and media activities.

Instant messaging is also considered the single most important means of communication among 16-24 year olds.

Photo or video messaging services, such as Snapchat, are now used by 21 per cent of UK adults on a weekly basis, up from 14 per cent in 2014.

Emailing and texting (SMS) remain the most common methods of text communication, at 70 per cent and 63 per cent respectively in a given week, but both have decreased since 2014.

The digital generation gap

Ofcom’s Digital Day study – published as part of the Communications Market Report 2016 – shows that UK adults are spending eight hours 45 minutes on media and communications each day on average – more time than we do sleeping.

Sixteen to twenty-four year olds spend the most time on media and communications, at just under nine hours daily. This digital generation are more likely to embrace a wider variety of newer on-demand and online services, compared with older generations, for whom live TV and radio still dominates their media and communications time.

While a digital generational gap clearly exists, the report also shows that many older people are keen to keep pace with newer online and on-demand services.

The proportion of 55-64 years who had Internet access increased from 82 per cent in 2015 to 87 per cent in 2016, while over half (51 per cent) indicated they used social media and 42 per cent on-demand services in an average week.

Smartphone ownership among those aged 55 and over also increased from 32 per cent to 42 per cent year on year, while one in five (20 per cent) now subscribe to a 4G service – up from 11 per cent in 2015.

Furthermore, the most significant annual growth in mobile data use was among the older age groups – from 39 per cent in 2015 to 50 per cent in 2016 among 55-64 year olds and from 16 per cent to 21 per cent among people aged 65 and over.

Other market developments

  • Total UK communications revenues generated by telecoms, TV, radio and postal services increased in 2015, rising by £0.4 billion (€0.48bn) (0.9 per cent) to £56.5 billion.
  • Average monthly household spending on communication services has decreased in real terms over the past five years – from £121.15 in 2010, to £118.90 in 2015, representing a monthly decrease of £2.25, or £27 per year.


  • Broadcast TV generated record revenues of £13.6 billion last year – partly driven by pay-TV subscription income rising to £6.2 billion. 2015 was also a bumper year for spending on network programmes, reaching £6.5 billion – a year-on-year increase of 3 per cent in nominal terms.
  • On average, each person in the UK watched 3 hours and 36 minutes of broadcast TV per day in 2015, four minutes less than in 2014. But underlying this were marked differences by age groups. Average daily viewing fell by 15 minutes a day among 16-24 year olds, the biggest annual drop for this group since 2010, while it increased by two minutes among over-65s. Live TV viewing fell by five and a half minutes year on year, while recorded and catch-up viewing within a week of broadcast increased by 1.3 minutes.
  • More than half of UK adults (59 per cent) used a video-on-demand (VoD) service during 2015 – up from 57 per cent in 2014. Although the growth of VoD services is slowing for some age groups, paid-for VoD services continued to grow in popularity, with Netflix a prominent driving force.
  • Weekly viewing of paid-for VoD services increased from 18 per cent of UK adults in 2014, to 26 per cent in 2016. Netflix was the most popular service (watched by 23 per cent on a weekly basis – up from 13 per cent in 2014), followed by Amazon Instant Video (7 per cent) and NOW TV (4 per cent).
  • Breaking Bad was the most watched programme across these three services in 2015.


  • Total UK telecoms revenues grew for the first time in five years – increasing by £0. 2 billion (0.5 per cent) to £37.5 billion between 2014 and 2015.
  • Average monthly household spending on telecoms services increased in real terms between 2014 and 2015 by £2.52 (up 3.2 per cent) to £82.17 – largely a result of people switching to superfast broadband, which is generally around £10 more per month than standard broadband; line rental prices have also increased.
  • The number of homes with landline telephones continued to fall, decreasing by 0.3 million (1.0 per cent) to 33.2 million in 2015 as people shift to mobile services and instant messaging.
  • There was a 1.6 million (1.8 per cent) increase in mobile subscriptions to 91.5 million during 2015 – almost half were 4G (39.5 million), for which demand has tripled since the start of 2014.
  • Two thirds (66 per cent) of adults now use Internet data services on a mobile phone, up from 61 per cent in 2015.
  • The total number of text (SMS) and multimedia (MMS) messages sent each year continued to decline – from 110 billion in 2014, to 101 billion in 2015. Volumes have fallen by around a third since peaking in 2012, largely as a result of growing use of Instant Messaging.
  • Total fixed broadband connections increased by 0.9 million (3.9 per cent) to 24.7 million in 2015. The number of superfast broadband connections rose by 2.0 million (28.7 per cent) to 9.2 million during the year – equivalent to 37.1 per cent of all connections (a year-on-year increase of seven percentage points).
  • The average fixed broadband line used 82 GB of data per month in 2015 – up 41 per cent from the 58 GB per month recorded in June 2014.


  • Total UK radio industry revenue was £1.2 billion, remaining stable between 2014 and 2015.
  • Nine in 10 adults (89.6 per cent) tuned into the radio in 2015, while average daily listening time remained broadly stable year on year for all ages at 3 hours 3 minutes. However, the average time spent listening each week by the 15-24s has fallen by five hours in the past ten years.
  • 16-24s spend just 29 per cent of their audio listening time tuning in to live radio, compared to 71 per cent for all adults. 16-24s spend almost equal amounts of time listening to live radio as they do to streamed music (25 per cent).
  • The number of adults using streaming services such as Spotify or Soundcloud has increased year-on-year, from 13 per cent to 19 per cent.
  • In Q1 2016, over two-fifths (44.1 per cent) of radio listening was through a digital device – increasing from 39.6 per cent in Q1 2015.


  • Eighty-six per cent of adults now have home Internet access via any device.
  • Smartphones are considered the most important device for Internet access (by 36 per cent of Internet users), followed by laptops (29 per cent of Internet users).
  • Tablets (up from 54 per cent to 59 per cent), smartphones (up from 66 per cent to 71 per cent), smart TVs (up from 20 per cent to 27 per cent) and smart watches (up from 3 per cent to 5 per cent) saw year-on-year increases in ownership between 2015 and 2016.

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