Broadcast TV still more popular than streaming services – but only just

Broadcast TV still more popular than streaming services – but only just
(Image credit: Ofcom)

Watching broadcast TV from the likes of the BBC and ITV is still the most popular way for UK audiences to watch TV – but streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube are gaining faster than ever.

What we think of as 'traditional viewing', though that does include catch-up TV within 28 days, still accounts for most TV watching in the UK, with an average of three hours and 12 minutes per day. However, as Ofcom's latest Media Nations reportreveals, this does mark a drop of 11 minutes since 2017 – or 49 minutes since 2012.

Meanwhile, average daily viewing of streaming services rose last year to 26 minutes, reports the BBC, proving that such platforms are now enjoying an even bigger bite of the cherry.

The percentage of UK households subscribing to the most popular streaming services – Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV and Disney Life – is also on the rise, from 11.2m (39%) in 2018, to 13.3m (47%) in 2019.

Yih-Choung Teh, strategy and research group director at Ofcom, said, "The way we watch TV is changing faster than ever before. In the space of seven years, streaming services have grown from nothing to reach nearly half of British homes."

Many households apparently now sign up to more than one service, with the total number of UK streaming subscriptions up by a quarter in 2018 – from 15.6m to 19.1m.

According to the report, two in five UK adults now consider online video services to be their main way of watching films. However, the five main UK public service broadcasters – BBC One, BBC Two, Channel 4, ITV/STV and Channel 5 – held firm at a 52% share of viewing, and according to the report, viewers remain "broadly satisfied" with the quality of broadcast TV. 

On the strength of British broadcasting, Teh added, "traditional broadcasters still have a vital role to play, producing the kind of brilliant UK programmes that overseas tech giants struggle to match".

Despite holding firm in some respects, UK viewers now watch 50 minutes less traditional TV each day than in 2010 – and younger viewers (aged 16 to 24) have halved the time they spend watching TV that way during the same period.

In terms of actual shows, BBC One's Line of Duty is the most-watched programme overall this year so far, with 12.1 million tuning in to the final episode. Was the What Hi-Fi? team among them? Yes Sarge, we were there. 


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Becky has been a full-time staff writer at What Hi-Fi? since March 2019. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, she freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 20-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance is of course tethered to a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo, This is Cabaret and The Stage. When not writing, she dances, spins in the air, drinks coffee, watches football or surfs in Cornwall with her other half – a football writer whose talent knows no bounds.