The way we were: 10 ways UK media consumption has changed in the last decade

First published on TheMediaBriefing.


Back in 2005 we lived in a pre-smartphone age, YouTube had just launched and your parents were most definitely not on Facebook.

How quickly things change.

Technology is moving so fast that it’s easy to forget just how rapidly services and habits have evolved. Yet there is a value in looking back; if only to help us understand the scale of the digital challenge faced today by many major media players.

The dizzying pace of tech transformation is such that it should be no surprise that so many legacy operators have struggled to keep up -or (perhaps worse still) backed the wrong horse – in this dynamic digital age.

If you want evidence for these sentiments, then look no further than Ofcom’s 2015 report into adult media use and attitudes. With a dataset stretching back to 2005, the study by the UK Regulator offers us a fascinating insight into a decade of unprecedented digital change and disruption.

Here are 10 findings which grabbed our attention:

1.  In 2005, just over half of UK adults had internet access, with over a third using dial-up

An internet connection was predominantly used for email and browsing information. Catch-up TV, social networking and VoIP were embryonic services, at best. Now nearly everyone is online. Only 14% – across all ages – are not.

UK Internet users

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2.  The time we spend online has more than doubled since 2005

Back in 2005 adults typically spent just under 10 hours a week online. We now spend more than 20; with usage increasing at home and at work. Not unexpectedly, given the growth in connected mobile devices, “out of home use has increased five-fold from half an hour in 2005 to nearly two and a half (2.3) hours in 2014,” Ofcom reports.

Amongst this, time spent online each week by 16-24s has nearly tripled. Internet usage has increased substantially within this cohort from 10.4 to 27.6 hours a week. Amongst older online users this increase has been much less dramatic – up from 6.5 to 9 hours a week for those aged 65+.

3.  Social networking has gone mainstream and become a daily media habit

In 2007 only 22% of us were on social networks. Now nearly three quarters (72%) of internet users have a social media profile – and 81% of us check in on these networks on a daily basis, up from 30% in 2007.

4.  Social Media usage has grown fastest amongst 35-44s

Although younger audiences are the most active social networkers, the fastest growing demographic in the past eight years (the time period covered by this particular data point) has been the 35-44s; up 68% – from just 12% to a near ubiquitous 80%.


5.  Smartphone take-up appears to have pretty much plateaued

The past decade might have seen the launch of the iPhone, Android and the Phablet, but the proportion of UK adults citing smartphone use now stands at 66%. In 2013 that figure was 62%.

6.  Our mobile phones are now truly used as multi-media devices

52% of mobile phone users email at least once a week from their device, compared to 5% in 2005; whilst weekly viewing of short video clips on a mobile has risen rapidly – up from 29% in 2013 to 40% in 2014.

Email on the phone

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7.  We’re increasingly a nation of mobile gamers

Dedicated games consoles were all the rage in 2005. In fact, Ofcom found that nearly half of UK adults (48%) said they had a games console in their household, with 21% claiming to play it regularly. Only 13% played games on their phone on a weekly basis. That’s a lot of Snake.

The popularity of smartphones and tablets has meant that online and mobile gaming usage has doubled.

8.  Tablet growth is fastest with those aged 45+

Whereas it’s levelled off with other groups, even though it’s still a popular device for many media activities.

 9.  Tech has changed our TV habits

Just one in ten (11%) had a DVR in 2005, now just over half of us (51%) do.

Meanwhile, over a quarter (27%) of internet users now watch TV or films online at least once a week, compared to one in ten in 2007. More of us are supplementing this with watching video clips online; this behaviour has nearly doubled during this time from 21% to 39%.

10.   Breadth – or lack thereof – of internet usage represents a challenge for new entrants or businesses wanting to grow their online audience base

“Internet users estimate that they visit an average of 15 different websites in a typical week,” Ofcom notes. But given the potential range of things we do online, that’s actually not a lot, suggesting that audiences only use one or two sites for particularly types of online activities.

25% of internet users say they visit fewer than five different websites in a typical week; and close to a third (31%) claim to only use websites or apps that they have used before.

For those who are a bit more ambitious and open to new online propositions, 44% say they use ‘maybe one or two’ sites or apps that they haven’t visited before, with just 25% of internet users claim that most weeks they use new (to them) websites or apps.

2 responses to “The way we were: 10 ways UK media consumption has changed in the last decade

  1. Back in 2005 I was on maternity leave, unplugging the phone whenever I wanted to use the internet and using envelopes and the postal service to circulate the occasional photo of my newborn. That newborn is now 10 and has just published her own blog ( which she can update from her smartphone so this article certainly rings true here!

    • Hi Becci, I think you comment says it all! To think that a decade ago so many people only had a phone for emergencies, and now you’ve a ten year old who uses her own phone to maintain her own blog…

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