Advanced Television

Ofcom: Linear broadcast slump as boomers switch to streaming

August 3, 2023

By Colin Mann

The media diets of viewers and listeners in the UK appear to be more diverse and fragmented than ever, according to broadcast regulator Ofcom’s latest annual report on the TV, online video, radio and audio sectors.

As competition for the nation’s attention intensifies, Media Nations 2023 finds that the proportion of viewers who tune in to traditional broadcast TV each week has seen the sharpest ever annual fall – from 83 per cent in 2021 to 79 per cent in 2022. BBC One remains the only channel to reach more than half of the viewing population every week.

Time spent watching broadcast TV is down 12 per cent. A similar decline is evident in the average time that viewers spend watching broadcast TV each day – down from 2 hours 59 minutes in 2021, to 2 hours 38 minutes in 2022 (-12 per cent). For the first time, there is evidence of a significant decline in average daily broadcast TV viewing among ‘core’ older audiences (aged 65+) – a drop of 8 per cent year on year, and down 6 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.

Ofcom data also suggests that older viewers are diversifying their viewing and becoming more likely to take up streaming services, although household take-up of these services overall appears to be plateauing. The proportion of over-64s subscribing to Disney+, for example, increased from 7 per cent in 2022 to 12 per cent in 2023.

Steep decline in ‘mass audience’ programmes

The report reveals another notable shift in the broadcast TV landscape – a steep decline in the number of programmes attracting ‘mass audiences’. The number of programmes with more than four million TV viewers has halved over the past eight years, from 2,490 in 2014, to 1,184 in 2022.

While the number of programmes with large audiences is down across all genres, these declines are a reflection of fewer people watching the main early and late evening TV news bulletins, as well as a steady decline in viewing figures for the three most popular soaps: Coronation Street, EastEnders and Emmerdale. Since 2014, news programmes attracting 4 million plus viewers are down 72 per cent – from 537 to 148 programmes, while mass audience soap episodes are down 42 per cent, from 754 to 438 programmes.

In comparison, only 48 programmes averaged more than four million TV viewers on streaming platforms in 2022, with Netflix accounting for the vast majority. High levels of viewing to these services are spread across the tens of thousands of episodes available in their libraries, illustrating just how fragmented the viewing landscape has become.

Public service broadcasters succeed in bringing the nation together

Despite the continuing decline of traditional broadcast TV viewing, BBC One (20 per cent) and ITV1 (13 per cent) are still the top two first destinations for viewers when they turn on their TV, with Netflix coming in third (6 per cent). In addition, watching broadcasters’ content – either live, on recorded playback or streamed on-demand – still accounts for the greatest proportion of all time spent each day watching TV and video (60 per cent, 2 hours 41 minutes per person, per day).

With broadcasters digitalising their services to meet audiences’ changing needs, use of their video-on-demand services, such as BBC iPlayer and ITVX, continues to grow. ITVX accounted for 10 per cent of ITV’s total viewing in the first half of 2023, up from 7 per cent across 2022. BBC iPlayer rose from 14 per cent of the BBC’s total viewing to 18 per cent during the same time period.

Public perception of the public service broadcast channels remains positive, with seven in ten viewers (69 per cent) saying they were satisfied with them overall. Viewers also recognised the contribution of these channels in delivering ‘broadcast events that bring the nation together for a shared viewing experience’ – with sentiment increasing from 61 per cent in 2021 to 65 per cent in 2022. PSBs’ programmes of this nature dominated the list of most-watched programmes in 2022, with England’s quarter-final in the FIFA World Cup (16.1 million viewers), HM Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral (13.2 million viewers), and the Platinum Jubilee (13.2 million viewers) holding the top spots.

In 2022, the PSBs were able to return to full production schedules. As a result, PSB spend on first-run original programmes totalled £2.9 billion (€3.6bn), up 10.3 per cent year on year, and 14.2 per cent greater than in 2019, while hours broadcast climbed to their highest point since 2016 – totalling 32,712.

Teenage and young adult users of TikTok clock up an hour a day on the platform

Children and young adults under 25 have collectively decreased their average daily broadcast viewing by 73 per cent since 2012. For the first time, 16-24-year-olds watched less broadcast TV on average than children aged 4-15 (39 minutes per day compared to 41). Evidence suggests they’re tuning in for only one or two programmes per day, mainly for genres such as sport and popular entertainment or reality programming.

Social video platforms remain a major part of youngsters’ daily media habits. In March 2023, 5.2 million 15-24-year-olds visited TikTok, spending an average of 58 minutes per day on the platform. This was followed by Snapchat (52 minutes), YouTube (48 minutes) and Instagram (25 minutes).

‘Snackable’ short-form video content lasting less than 10 minutes is particularly popular. Nearly seven in ten (68 per cent) 15-24s claim to watch short-from videos daily, with YouTube the most popular destination for this kind of content.

Commercial radio riding a wave in its 50th year

Live radio continues to reach the majority of adults across the UK, with 88 per cent of people tuning in for an average of 20 hours each week across digital, analogue and online platforms. This listening has previously been split more or less equally between BBC and commercial radio stations, but over the past year, commercial radio consolidated its position as market leader to take a 51.4 per cent share in Q1 2023 – five percentage points clear of the BBC.

Radio listening continues to shift to online, with smart speakers now accounting for a fifth of in-home radio listening (20 per cent). A fifth of adults’ audio listening is to streamed music (21 per cent), although this increases to 50 per cent among 15-34s.

Around one in five adults (20 per cent) listen to podcasts each week, with the increase largely driven by listeners aged 25-44. Older teens and younger adults, however, appear to be turning away from podcasts, with weekly listening among 15-24s falling to just under 22 per cent in Q1 2023.[7]

“Today’s viewers and listeners have an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet of broadcasting and online content to choose from, and there’s more competition for our attention than ever,” notes Yih-Choung Teh, Group Director, Strategy and Research at Ofcom.

“Our traditional broadcasters are seeing steep declines in viewing to their scheduled, live programmes – including among typically loyal older audiences – and soaps and news programmes don’t have the mass-audience pulling power they once had.”

“But despite this, public service broadcasters are still unrivalled in bringing the nation together at important cultural and sporting moments, while their on-demand players are seeing positive growth as they digitalise their services to meet audience needs,” he concludes.

“The Ofcom Media Nations Report suggests TV is not dead but certainly ailing,” says Nick Swimer, Partner at legal firm Reed Smith. “It’s not only younger audiences that are skewing away from scheduled TV to social and SVoD viewing. For the first time, daily broadcast TV viewing among core older audiences is taking a tumble in worrying signs for broadcasters.”

“The decline is partially being addressed by PSB digital offerings and some success in offsetting through viewing in their on-demand services. This is why the commercial broadcasters are also having to innovate strategically to bolster their position. This may become more of a trend, as it has in print, with increased competition for eyeballs creating more of a requirement for broadcasters to collaborate and create brand-safe mass audience propositions to ward off further erosion of broadcaster advertising share.”

“In a period of heightened misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, the decline in watching regulated news is a wider concern for society. This decline has been predicted for years and urgently needs addressing by the passing into law of the long-awaited Media Bill. The DCMS might though wish to consider Ofcom’s report carefully and whether current due prominence proposals go far enough to promote high-quality, properly regulated public service content for viewers,” he advises.

A spokesperson for the Broadcast 2040+ campaign, a coalition campaigning to preserve broadcast services in the UK to 2040 and beyond, said: “This report from Ofcom is more nuanced than the media headlines suggest. The report in fact shows that traditional TV and radio remain the dominant means of accessing TV and radio in the UK. Eight in 10 people watch traditional TV each week and DAB radio services are expanding; all in a world with an ever growing range of choice for accessing content.”

“It is easy to see why. Traditional TV and radio are universally available and free at the point of use. These services are an important safety net for millions of people who do not have access to high speed Internet or cannot afford expensive streaming subscriptions. The choice of streaming is great if you have access to this plethora of services and can afford them – but millions don’t and can’t. That is why it is critical broadcast services are protected in Britain as an affordable alternative to 2040 and beyond.”

“Generational viewership is changing,” notes Oscar Wall, General Manager EMEA at Recurly. “Younger generations are switching to consume shorter form content, however surprisingly, ratings have shown that older generations have also reduced their viewing. Recurly’s recent consumer survey found that over 80 per cent  of Boomers are encouraged to sign up to a subscription if a free trial and loyalty incentives are offered. However unexpected fees added have the opposite effect of prompting them to unsubscribe, whereas only 56 per cent  of Gen Z agree. Providers should offer loyalty incentives and free trials entice Boomers back and boost retention,” he suggests.

“Whether it’s BVoD, AVoD, or SVoD, or a mix, the successful services are offering variable payment and ad-tiered options to support consumers during the economic downturn. For the big service providers, it’s important that they pivot to offer personalised options to drive revenue. “

“Finally, it’s evident that Brits love content and watching makes them feel like part of a community. The results show that viewership within traditional TV has declined, however the ‘Crown Jewels’ of British channels – BBC and ITV – are still the go-to for big events. Live broadcast celebrations of sport and royalty, amongst others, are key to a community-based viewing experience. In such a crowded space media services – both traditional and digital service providers – need to focus on this more for long term retention,” he concludes.

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