Advanced Television

Ofcom: UK a binge viewer nation

August 3, 2017

The UK has become a nation of binge viewers, Ofcom research reveals, with eight in ten adults now watching multiple episodes of their favourite shows in a single sitting.

The findings are part of Ofcom’s annual Communications Market Report 2017, which reveals stark differences in how older and younger people watch television.

Eight in ten adults in the UK (79 per cent) – or 40 million people – use catch-up technology such as BBC iPlayer, or subscription services such as Netflix, to watch multiple episodes of a series in one sitting, wiping out the wait for next week’s instalment. One third (35 per cent) do so every week, and more than half (55 per cent) do it monthly.

Most binge viewers (70 per cent) find this type of viewing relaxing and enjoyable, and for others it’s an opportunity to discuss with friends (24 per cent). But around a third (32 per cent) of adults admit the temptation to watch another episode has cost them sleep and left them feeling tired.

Perhaps as a result, more than a third (35 per cent) of binge viewers, and almost half (47 per cent) of young adults aged 16-24 are trying to cut down their viewing in some way. This includes rationing their viewing (19 per cent), finding an alternative hobby (10 per cent), or even cancelling a TV subscription (4 per cent).

Binge viewing has such a strong allure that many viewers say they don’t intend to do it, but the pull of the next episode keeps them tuned in. More than seven in ten (74 per cent) say they sometimes watch more than they intend to, while 18 per cent say this always happens.

Bingeing is most popular among young people: more than half (53 per cent) of those aged 12-15 enjoy weekly watch-a-thons, compared to just 16 per cent of over-65s. For that older age group, more than half (59 per cent) prefer a traditional release of one episode per week.

The trend has been driven, in part, by the availability of faster home internet speeds, a rise in the number of connected TVs, and increased take-up of smartphones and tablets.

Some 11 per cent of people aged 16-24 watch TV every day, compared to 0 per cent of people aged 65 per cent

Noting the Ofcom findings, Stephen van Rooyen, Chief Executive Officer, Sky UK and Ireland, said: “This year we have seen Sky customers binge-watch like never before, including 17 milion downloads of our record-breaking Sky Original Riviera. There have been almost 40 million downloads and streams of Series 1-6 of Game of Thrones across Sky and NOW TV in the past three months alone as viewers race through back-to-back box sets. Whether you want to stream live TV on the move with Sky Go or download your latest TV guilty pleasure to watch later on your phone, we bring together the best content in one place that lets customers watch whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want.”

Sky Atlantic’s Riviera has broken records to become the most popular original box set release in Sky’s history with over 17 million downloads and views, including via the Sky Go app and online streaming service NOW TV.
86 per cent of viewing to the series is via On-Demand with 66 per cent of customers watching in advance of the linear TX and the remaining 18 per cent being catch-up viewing.

Since being made available to catch up on at the beginning of May there have been over 20 million box set downloads of S1-6 of Game of Thrones, a further 13.6 million  via NOW TV and 5.5 million downloads and streams via the Sky Go app.   S7 Episode 2 has consolidated to 3.95 million viewers, S7 Episode 1 consolidated at 4.7 million, recording the biggest consolidated audience for a programme ever on Sky.

Fifty-five per cent of viewers for the last season of GoT were male, however, so far, this season has been equal between men and women, perhaps suggesting late adopters are mostly female.

Spoiler alert!

For many binge viewers, the desire to keep up with programmes is driven by fear of someone spoiling a programme’s ending (25 per cent). This can result in some (16 per cent) feeling under pressure to keep up with the viewing habits of family or friends.

And for some, the days of being tied to the TV schedule are fading, as UK viewers take advantage of being able to watch whenever, wherever they like. More than a third of people watch TV on the move – while on holiday (24 per cent), while commuting (16 per cent) or even in the pub (7 per cent).

Just over a half of people (51 per cent) watch TV in their bedroom, while others watch in the kitchen (16 per cent), the garden (9 per cent) or the bathroom (9 per cent).

For many, watching TV is now a solo activity. Two in five adults say they watch TV alone every day, and almost nine in ten watch programmes alone at least once a week. One third of people say members of their household sit together, in the same room, watching different programmes on separate screens.

Despite this, nine in ten people watch live TV every week, and family viewing is still an integral part of family life. Three in ten (30 per cent) adults say their family still watches the same programmes or films together every day, while 70 per cent do so at least once a week. Nearly seven in ten (68 per cent) say watching TV can bring the whole family together for a shared viewing experience.

Ofcom’s research also reveals differences between the viewing habits of older and younger people, with the latter far more likely to take advantage of streaming services such as Amazon Prime.

More than seven in ten (76 per cent) young people aged 16-24 use a subscription streaming service, compared to less than two in ten (19 per cent) older people aged 65 and over.

However, BBC iPlayer is the most popular on-demand service with 63 per cent of adults saying they use it, followed by ITV Hub at 40 per cent and then YouTube at 38 per cent and Netflix at 31 per cent.

The public service broadcasters’ on-demand services, such as All 4 and ITV Hub, are popular with all age groups – 75 per cent of young adults aged 16-24s, and 59 per cent of over-65s, use these services.

Meanwhile, nearly six in ten (59 per cent) over-65s prefer a TV series to be released in the traditional manner, week by week, compared to 40 per cent and 36 per cent of young people aged 12-15 and 16-24 respectively.

“Technology has revolutionised the way we watch TV,” noted Lindsey Fussell, Consumer Group Director at Ofcom. “The days of waiting a week for the next episode are largely gone, with people finding it hard to resist watching multiple episodes around the house or on the move. But live television still has a special draw, and the power to bring the whole family together in a common experience.”

Sharenting – a modern dilemma

This year’s Communications Market Report also examines Briton’s online habits – looking particularly at the sharing of images, and wide differences in people’s approach to online privacy.

It reveals that more than half (56 per cent) of parents don’t indulge in ‘sharenting’, the common practice of sharing pictures of children on social media. Among those who do not share, the main reason (87 per cent) is a wish to keep their children’s lives private.

In contrast, 42 per cent of parents do share photos of their children, and half of these share photos at least once a month.

Of those parents who do share photos, just over half (52 per cent) say their children are happy for them to do so, and eight in ten (84 per cent) say they only share photos or videos their children would be happy with. A large majority (85 per cent) of these parents say they are careful about who can access the material.

Privacy know-how

Understanding the privacy implications of sharing images is a critical media literacy skill, and some people are aware that, once they post an image, they no longer have control over it.

Half of people understand that an uploaded photo is difficult to delete because it may have been shared or saved by someone else, but 17 per cent think it is easy to delete, and a further 16 per cent didn’t know.

Older people are far less confident about using privacy settings than younger Internet users. The large majority (81 per cent) of 18-24s feel comfortable changing settings, but this falls to 37 per cent of over-55s.

70 per cent of people do not think that it is OK to share a photograph or video of other people without their permission. 36 per cent strongly agree that personal photographs should only be shared with friends and followers

Most people are aware of other people’s privacy, with seven in ten (70 per cent) saying they wouldn’t share photos of other people without their permission, and three-quarters saying that personal images should only be shared with friends or followers.

And six in ten (62 per cent) people who post photos of themselves (‘selfies’) say they have ‘untagged’ themselves from someone else’s photos or videos of them.

Younger people are more relaxed about sharing photos. Almost two in ten (18 per cent) people aged 18-24 don’t mind sharing with everyone, compared to just 5 per cent of people over 35.

The power of self-image

More than a third (34 per cent) of those aged 18-24 say the pictures they post and share most often are selfies – more so than landscapes/buildings (32 per cent) and holidays (31 per cent).

But among the wider population, holidays are still the most popular online snaps (24 per cent).

Most selfie-takers (71 per cent) say it’s important to look their best in photos, and nearly half (47 per cent) feel pressure to look good online. This is more common among young people aged 18-24 (77 per cent), and significantly more so among women (82 per cent) than men (58 per cent).

Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) are cynical about the photos that other people post. Seven in ten say other people’s photos offer a ‘rose-tinted’ view of that person, or make their life appear more exciting than it is. This view is strikingly high among younger people – 85 per cent of 18-24s, and 88 per cent of 25-34s, agree with it, compared to only 65 per cent of over-55s.

Unfortunately, despite knowing that these photos might not be realistic, viewing these photos can have a negative impact. One third (32 per cent) say looking at other people’s photos makes them feel that their life doesn’t match up, rising to more than half (53 per cent) of 18-24s.

Among other key findings:

  • In 2016, 44 per cent of homes had speeds of over 30Mbit/s, two-thirds of households had a connected TV, 76 per cent of adults had a smartphone and 58 per cent of adults had a tablet.
  • The base for the 25 per cent figure is among those who binge; the 16 per cent figure is among all adults.
  • 45 per cent say they watch TV alone, every day, 87 per cent watch programmes alone at least once a week, and 92 per cent do it at least monthly. 31 per cent people say members of their household sit together on a weekly basis, in the same room, watching different programmes on separate screens, and 36 per cent do so monthly.
  • While 91 per cent of UK adults watched live TV in an average week in 2016, the amount of time UK adults spend watching has fallen since 2010, with a decline in average daily viewing time of 36 minutes to 3 hours 51 minutes per adult (16+) per day in 2016. Including everyone aged four and over, daily viewing is 3 hours 32 minutes.

The wider communications market

  • Total UK communications revenues generated by telecoms, TV, radio and postal services increased by £0.19 billion (0.4 per cent) in real terms to £54.90 billion in 2016.
  • Total number of mobile subscriptions continued to rise, reaching 92 million at the end of 2016, and nearly two-thirds of mobile subscriptions were enabled for 4G.
  • Average monthly household spending on communication services has increased slightly in real terms over the past five years from £122.15 in 2011 to £122.54 in 2016.


  • Broadcast TV generated revenues of £13.80 billion last year. This was a £0.10 billion (1 per cent) rise on 2015 in real terms.
  • The reach of broadcast TV remained high in 2016, with 91 per cent of the TV population (individuals aged four and over) watching TV at least once in a typical week through 2016.
  • However, there’s a widening gap between the viewing activities of the youngest and oldest audiences, with children aged four to -15, and adults 16-24 showing the largest declines in broadcast TV viewing in 2016, compared to a small increase in viewing among the over-65s.


  • Total UK telecoms (landline, fixed Internet and mobile voice and data services) revenues grew by 0.4 per cent in real terms in 2016, to £35.60 billion.
  • The total number of fixed broadband connections increased by 2.2 per cent, to 25.3 million, while the proportion of these that were superfast increased by six percentage points to 44 per cent of all broadband connections.
  • In 2016, 8 per cent of home connections had an average speed of 100 Mbit/s or higher. Conversely, 29 per cent of home connections had an average download speed of less than 10 Mbit/s, but this is down 10 percentage points since 2015.


  • Total UK radio industry revenues decreased slightly to £1.20 billion in 2016, a drop of 0.9 per cent.
  • Nine in ten people (89.6 per cent) in the UK listen to the radio at least once a week, and this has remained steady for the past five years. But, people are listening to the radio for longer: on average, weekly listening increased by six minutes, to 21 hours 24 minutes.
  • Three in ten now use an online music service, while 16 per cent have listened to podcasts.


  • 88 per cent of adults now have Internet access at home. Four in ten (42 per cent) Internet users regard their smartphones as their most important device for getting online.
  • More than nine in ten 16-24s and 25-34s own a smartphone. Desktop ownership is now 29 per cent across the UK, down by three percentage points since 2016.

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