Britons spent third of time watching TV and online videos in 2020

Ofcom finds average UK resident spent five hours and 40 minutes a day watching video content

Britons spent a third of their waking hours watching TV or online videos in 2020, according to research from the media regulator Ofcom that shows how we were driven to our screens during the pandemic.

The average UK resident watched video content for five hours and 40 minutes a day last year, an increase of an almost an hour on pre-pandemic levels.

The lack of alternative entertainment options boosted the popularity of everything from traditional dramas such as Netflix’s The Crown to watching people play video games on the Twitch streaming service.

Live TV channels still account for the majority of viewing, and there was growth for domestic catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer and Channel 4’s 4oD. But the figures raise serious questions about the long-term health of the UK’s traditional broadcasters.

The research lays bare the rapid growth of US-owned streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+. They have transformed the market by outspending traditional broadcasters and luring away many viewers who increasingly turn to them as a default viewing option.

More than 60% of UK households had access to a paid streaming service in 2020, up from 49% a year earlier.

Further growth is expected as the public gets used to paying for popular shows, although this risks leaving people unable to afford subscription packages behind, as seen with the backlash after much of the 2020 Olympics coverage in the UK was placed behind Discovery’s paywall rather than being freely available to watch on the BBC.

The pandemic also convinced many older Britons to subscribe to a streaming service for the first time. Ofcom estimates that the number of UK residents aged 45-74 who had access to Netflix during the pandemic increased by a third.

Netflix has become increasingly aware of the importance of attracting older subscribers in order to maintain growth, as it begins to approach market saturation among the young.

The popularity of Disney+ has grown rapidly among families buying it as a secondary subscription alongside Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Ofcom’s group director for strategy and research, Yih-Choung Teh, said: “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.

“The pandemic undoubtedly turbocharged 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.”

Paradoxically, at the same time that traditional TV channels are facing long-term decline, they have recently recorded record-breaking live audiences for programmes involving major news events, live sport, or where social media attention is driving buzz around a particular show.

Tens of millions of viewers tuned in for Boris Johnson’s coronavirus updates during the pandemic, and for the England football team’s run to the final of Euro 2020 and for episodes of talked-about shows such as the BBC’s Line of Duty.

Contributor

Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Amazon Prime Video to slow streaming to fight broadband overload
Exclusive: YouTube will lower stream quality to handle surge as people stay at home

Mark Sweney

20, Mar, 2020 @12:44 PM

Article image
Ofcom: young people watch a third less TV on sets as they move online
Annual report uncovers generation gap as older adults continue to tune in – and they feel programme standards have fallen

Mark Sweney

07, Jul, 2017 @2:22 PM

Article image
Disney forecast to steal Netflix’s crown as world’s biggest streaming firm
On back of Disney+ service launched in 2019, company predicted to be No 1 by 2024

Mark Sweney

14, Mar, 2021 @3:15 PM

Article image
Best UK streaming and pay-TV services 2021: Sky, Virgin, Netflix and Amazon Prime compared and ranked
Our updated list of the best pay-TV and streaming services in the UK

Samuel Gibbs Consumer technology editor

05, Mar, 2021 @10:57 AM

Article image
How long can James Bond resist the call of a TV spin-off?
Experts say it would make sense to expand 007’s appeal into fresh media but Barbara Broccoli resists call

Dan Milmo, Mark Sweney and Catherine Shoard

24, Sep, 2021 @1:19 PM

Article image
Money spent on film and TV production in UK down 21% in 2020
Investment in high-end TV shows overtook that of film for first time, according to BFI figures

Mark Sweney

04, Feb, 2021 @2:06 PM

Article image
End of families gathering round the TV as binge watching grows
Eight in 10 UK adults use streaming services such as BBC iPlayer or Netflix, says Ofcom, with 35% watching several episodes of a show once a week

Graham Ruddick

02, Aug, 2017 @11:01 PM

Article image
Amazon signs major deals with Neil Gaiman and Bear Grylls
Deals with author and adventurer are part of strategy to take battle to Netflix

Jim Waterson Media editor

02, Oct, 2018 @6:10 PM

Article image
Sexy Beasts to Acapulco: the seven best shows to stream this week
TV’s most ludicrous dating show returns, a pioneering American woman is recognised, and there’s a feelgood new coming-of-age comedy to tuck into

Phil Harrison

01, Oct, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Ofcom proposes radical shake-up of UK broadcasting
Streaming firms could provide public service programming in an increasingly digital world

Archie Bland

08, Dec, 2020 @1:24 PM