UK children’s online time has settled at just over two hours per day, as a study by regulator Ofcom uncovers the reasons young people are drawn to video services such as Netflix and YouTube.
Children in the UK (aged 5 to 15) now spend around 20 minutes more online, in a typical day, than they do in front of a TV set – just over two hours online, and a little under two hours watching TV – according to Ofcom’s annual study of their media use.
While children’s online time stopped growing for the first time in 2018 – estimated at an average of 2 hours 11 minutes per day, the same as the year before – their average daily TV time has fallen year on year by almost eight minutes, to an estimated 1 hour 52 minutes.
YouTube remains children’s primary online destination, with 80 per cent having used it. Nearly half (49 per cent) of children, and a third (32 per cent) of pre-schoolers aged 3-4, now watch SVoD services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and NOW TV.
Among those who watch both YouTube and TV programmes on a TV set, nearly half of ‘tweens’ aged 8-11 and older children aged 12-15 (49 per cent) prefer watching content on YouTube. However, more than a third get the same enjoyment from both viewing experiences.
Life on the small screen
To help understand why children are drawn towards online content, Ofcom has undertaken a detailed qualitative study of children’s viewing.
A panel of 40 boys and girls, aged 4-16, from around the UK, offered in-depth data, seven-day diaries and interviews on what they were watching and why. The study revealed powerful preferences for choice, control and a sense of community. It found that:
Children turn to YouTube for three things. The study found most of the children’s viewing on YouTube fell into three broad categories:
“Children have told us in their own words why online content captures most of their attention,” advised Yih-Choung Teh, Strategy and Research Group Director at Ofcom. “These insights can help inform parents and policymakers as they consider the role of the internet in children’s lives.”
“This research also sheds light on the challenge for UK broadcasters in competing for kids’ attention. But it’s clear that children today still value original TV programmes that reflect their lives, and those primetime TV moments which remain integral to family life.”
Managing screen time
Ofcom’s national, quantitative research also finds that older children are finding it harder to control their screen time than they were in 2018.
The proportion of 12-15s who agreed they found it difficult to moderate their screen time has increased to a third (35 per cent), up from a quarter (27 per cent) the year before. Seven in ten older children (71 per cent) are allowed to take their mobile phone to bed.
But in spite of these challenges, around two thirds of 12-15 year olds (63 per cent) considered they ultimately achieved ‘a good balance between screen time and doing other things’.