UK adults sought solace in screens and streaming in 2020, spending a third of their waking hours watching TV and online video content, according to broadcast regulator Ofcom’s annual study of the nation’s media habits.
With people across the UK under some form of lockdown restrictions for most of last year, more than 2,000 hours of it were spent watching TV and online video content. That’s a daily average of five hours and 40 minutes – 47 minutes more than in 2019.
The change was mainly driven by people spending almost twice as much time watching subscription streaming services (one hour and 5 minutes per day) such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.
UK subscriptions to streaming services climbed by over 50 per cent last year to reach 31 million, up from 20 million in 2019. This meant that, by September 2020, three in every five UK homes (60 per cent) were signed up, compared to 49 per cent a year earlier.
More than half of UK households (52 per cent) have taken out a Netflix subscription – meaning its customer base exceeds that of pay-TV providers combined for the very first time (48 per cent).
The main streaming services gathered an estimated £2.11 billion (€2.48bn) in UK revenues during 2020 – a 28 per cent increase in real terms on 2019’s £1.66 billion – and more than double their revenues in 2017 (£1.03 billion).
By April 2021, streaming service providers were offering UK viewers a combined total of over 115,000 hours of content. Amazon Prime video’s catalogue was the largest at over 41,000 hours, followed by Netflix at around 38,000. The combined content catalogues of All 4, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and My5 were narrowly short of this at 37,000 hours.
Twenty-nine of the top 30 most-watched titles on subscription services in Q1 2021 were on Netflix. Four of the most popular were UK-produced – Bridgerton, The Dig, Behind her Eyes and Fate: The Wynx Saga. This shows that home-grown, original programmes continue to be a significant draw for British audiences.
Bridgerton was a particular success, with 8.2 million homes watching by the end of March 2021, making it Netflix’s highest reaching title that quarter. Netflix subscribers also sought escapism during winter lockdown by spending almost an hour per day watching comedy programmes – nearly twice as much as a year earlier.
Broadcast TV loses further viewing share
The average time spent watching traditional broadcast TV each day in 2020 was 3 hours 12 minutes – nine minutes higher than in 2019. But this increase was entirely driven by people aged 45 and over.
Younger age groups continued to watch less broadcast TV in 2020; people aged 16-24, for example, only spent an hour and 17 minutes watching broadcast content – down from one hour and 21 minutes in 2019.
Overall, the net effect was a fall in broadcast TV’s share of all adults’ total viewing last year, from 67 per cent in 2019 to 61 per cent.
Spending by UK public service broadcasters on first-run, original programmes also dropped sharply by 18 per cent in real terms compared to 2019. This was due to cost-cutting measures, as PSBs faced revenue challenges caused by Covid-19, as well as disruption to the production sector which caused filming delays.
But live sport, drama and news continued to pull in viewers to broadcast TV in early 2021. The most-watched programme so far this year is the Euro 2020 final (England vs. Italy) with a combined audience of over 22 million UK viewers on BBC One and ITV. The Euro 2020 semi-final (England vs. Denmark) had the highest audience on a single channel with 18.3 million UK viewers on ITV. BBC One’s Line of Duty series finale (16.4 million UK viewers) and ITV’s Oprah Winfrey interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (14.9 million UK viewers) came in third and fourth.
“TV and online video have proved an important antidote to lockdown life, with people spending a third of their waking hours last year glued to screens for news and entertainment,” notes Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s Group Director, Strategy and Research. “The pandemic undoubtedly turbo-charged viewing to streaming services, with three in five UK homes now signed up. But with subscriber growth slowing into 2021 and lockdown restrictions easing, the challenge for the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Disney will be to ensure a healthy pipeline of content and keep customers signed up.”