The watershed, designed to protect young TV viewers, is 50 years old this month. Ofcom research shows that most adult TV viewers are aware of the 9pm watershed as a valued way of indicating what is suitable for young viewers.
Today, more TV viewers believe the watershed is at about the right time (78 per cent in 2013 compared to 70 per cent in 2008), Ofcom’s report on UK audience attitudes to broadcast media shows. When asking parents who watch TV whether the watershed is at about the right time, this increases to 80 per cent, compared to 72 per cent in 2008.
Similar proportions of adults who watch TV believe that it should be the responsibility of ‘both broadcasters and parents equally’ (49 per cent) and ‘mainly parents’ (46 per cent) to ensure children do not see unsuitable programming.
With over a third (37 per cent) of children aged 5-15 with internet at home now watching ‘on-demand’ content, Ofcom is working with Government and industry to examine how TV protections will continue to apply in a digital world.
In the past five years, there have been falls in the number of viewers saying there is ‘too much’ violence (35 per cent of adult viewers in 2013, down from 55 per cent in 2008), sex (26 per cent in 2013 versus 35 per cent in 2008) and swearing (35 per cent in 2013 versus 53 per cent in 2008) on TV.
One reason for this is a change in attitude among older viewers. The number of viewers over 65 who believe there is too much swearing (78 per cent in 2008 compared to 55 per cent in 2013) and violence (75 per cent in 2008 compared to 52 per cent in 2013) has fallen over the past five years.
Among those adults who had been offended by something on TV in the last 12 months (18 per cent of adult viewers), nearly four times more people are likely to continue watching the programme than in 2008 (5 per cent in 2008 versus 19 per cent in 2013) and less likely to turn off the TV altogether (32 per cent in 2008 compared to 19 per cent in 2013).
While on-demand TV is estimated to account for only 2.5 per cent of TV viewing, Ofcom recognises this poses new challenges. Ofcom is working with the government, other regulators and industry to ensure that children remain protected if they choose on-demand TV over traditional broadcast TV, where Ofcom’s strict watershed rules apply.
This would mean that consumers have a clear understanding of the protections that apply on different platforms and devices, and know which regulatory body to turn to if they have any concerns.
Tony Close, Director of Standards at Ofcom, said: “Fifty years on, the TV watershed remains a vital means of protecting viewers.
“While attitudes have changed over the decades, Ofcom ensures that TV standards meet the expectations of viewers. We take robust enforcement action when the rules are broken, which reflects the importance we place on protecting children.”
Claudio Pollack, Director of Ofcom’s Consumer and Content Group, said: “Ofcom recognises that the growth of on-demand TV is posing new challenges for parents and regulators. We’re working on ways to help ensure that the protections viewers expect from the watershed apply beyond broadcast TV.”