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

Gathering around the living room television to watch the latest hit show has been a family pastime for decades. But that gathering is increasingly becoming a myth as viewers binge-watch strings of episodes.

New research from Ofcom has found that 45% of people now watch a programme or film alone every day while nine in 10 watch alone every week. The media watchdog says that a third of Britons say members of their household sit together in the same room watching different programmes on different devices.

This change has been driven by an increase in the number of devices – such as televisions, tablets and smartphones – in homes, increasing internet speeds, and the growth of on-demand streaming services such as BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black is a prime example of the sort of show watched on catch-up. Photograph: Jojo Whilden/Netflix

Eight in 10 adults in the UK – 40m people – say they use catch-up technology such as BBC iPlayer or subscription services such as Netflix to watch more than one episode of a programme such as Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things or Game of Thrones. A third – 35% of the population – do this at least once a week, including 62% of 16 to 24-year-olds, while 55% do it at least once a month.


However, for some binge-viewing is leading to new stresses, with 32% of adults and 31% of teenagers saying it had caused them to miss out on sleep. More than a quarter of adults said it had led to them neglecting housework or other chores.

BBC iPlayer is the most popular on-demand service, with 63% of UK adults saying they use it compared with 40% for ITV Player, 38% for YouTube and 31% for Netflix, which was ahead of Channel 4, Channel 5, and Sky’s streaming services.

Tony Hall, the director-general of the BBC, has spoken of the “need to reinvent” iPlayer to meet changing habits. The BBC has added more box sets to the service with entire series of some shows – such as Peter Kay’s Car Share – available before they are broadcast on BBC1.

Peter Kay’s Car Share
Peter Kay’s Car Share is among BBC series available as box sets before they are broadcast. Photograph: -/BBC/Goodnight Vienna Productions

This is the first time that Ofcom has surveyed the use of streaming services and binge-viewing in its annual Communications Market Report, so there are no comparable figures with previous years.

Asked whether the trend towards binge-viewing and away from watching scheduled broadcasts as a family would continue, Lindsey Fussell, consumer group director at Ofcom, said: “It is clearly increasing at the moment.”

The survey found that 68% of adults in the UK think that watching television can bring the whole family together while 58% said that they prefer to watch big national events live instead of on-demand. However, only 30% of people said their family still watches a programme or film together every day.

Fussell added: “It is important to have a balanced picture. People are still watching a lot of television. There are events that people still see as important to watch together and actively enjoy doing so.”

There is a significant split in viewing habits between age groups. While teenagers and young adults enjoy binge-viewing the most, just 16% of over-65s watch multiple episodes in one go every week and 59% still prefer watching an episode when it is broadcast on a traditional channel.


The Ofcom report investigates the UK’s use of technology and how the nation consumes media. It found that 76% of adults own a smartphone, up five percentage points on last year, while the proportion with a tablet has flatlined at 58%.

Households are spending an average of £122.54 a month on communication services, including TV, broadband and mobile phones, which is the equivalent of 5.4% of total spending. Spending has increased from £121.91 a month last year as households switch to faster, but more expensive, fibre broadband services.

The report found that on average Britons watch three and a half hours of television a day. However, this varies wildly between age-groups with over-65s watching almost six hours, and 16 to 24-year-olds watching less than two hours.


Nine in 10 people still listen to the radio every week, with the average listener tuning in for more than 21 hours – and for the first time, the audience of commercial radio in aggregate has overtaken the BBC’s national and local stations.

Ofcom’s figures show that the BBC’s radio stations reached 64.3% of the population, compared with a combined 64.7% for commercial stations. The media watchdog said this was likely to be linked to increased ownership of DAB radios, which make it easier to listen to commercial radio stations around the county.


Graham Ruddick

The GuardianTramp

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