Public Service TV Broadcasting in the UK: 10 key charts

First published by TheMediaBriefing.

Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, recently published its annual report exploring the state of Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) in the UK. Encompassing all PSB channels (BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5, BBC News, S4C and BBC Alba) Ofcom’s research offers a valuable mix of data on TV consumption, production and audience attitudes.

The main report is (for Ofcom) surprisingly short. However, the 29-page study is accompanied by more than 200 pages of annexes; and it’s here that many of the most interesting conclusions can be found.

Ofcom’s longitudinal data offers us a fascinating glimpse into how much mainstream TV viewing has changed, whilst also demonstrating some areas of surprising constancy.

Here are 10 findings worth noting:

1. UK audiences watch a lot of video content

The average adult watches just over four and quarter hours (4h 16 mins) of a/v material a day. This includes TV channels, on demand content, online clips as well as DVDs and Blu Ray.

However, this general figure masks a myriad of differences across the various age groups. This includes differences in daily a/v consumption — with those aged 65+ watching nearly five and quarter hours a day, dropping to 3 hours 39 mins for those aged 25–44.

Perhaps the most striking finding is that amongst UK adults aged 16–34, less than half their time is spent watching live TV, compared to 83 percent of UK retirees (those aged 65+).

Amongst 16–24s, only 36 percent of their viewing time is spent on live TV, compared to 33 percent watching free — and paid — on demand content. By next year, daily viewing of on demand services may well have usurped live TV for this demographic.

UK daily TV and Video watching habits. Source: Ofcom

2. Half of all TV viewing is to PSB channels

Despite this, PSB output clearly remains important to TV viewers across the UK. As the report authors remark: “Although viewing to the main PSB channels has declined over the last ten years, half of all TV viewing continues to be to these channels.”

In a world where consumers have access to dozens — if not hundreds — of TV channels, this finding shows that TV, just like the internet, has a considerable long tail.

Proportion of UK sample that are self-claimed regular viewers. Image: Ofcom.

3. Digital portfolios have helped PSB’s preserve reach

The extent of UK TV’s long tail is revealed when examining the impact on viewing of PSB broadcasters ‘portfolio’ channels (timeshifted and digital-born/licensed services).

Collectively, the study found “when all the channels broadcast by PSBs are taken into account, they represent 71 percent of total TV viewing.” This represents only a small decrease — down just 6 percent (from 77 percent) in 2005 — despite the fact that all UK viewing has gone digital in the past decade. That means that the plethora of other non-PSB TV services available in the UK still account for less than 30 percent of TV viewing.

Portfolio services have therefore clearly played in an important role in ensuring public service broadcasters remain relevant to audiences, by maintaining share and helping to stem the flow of TV viewers to other providers.

As a result, the total weekly reach enjoyed by the UK’s PSB’s has generally seen a slower, more gradual, decline than might have been otherwise predicted.

This is especially remarkable given that in the past decade — as a result of Digital TV switchover and the compulsory closure of analogue broadcast signals — the UK became a truly multi-channel TV market, with every home now having access to dozens of channels.

Average weekly reach of PSB TV portfolio (“family”) services. Image: Ofcom

4. Satisfaction levels are remarkably constant

Although viewing levels of PSB content vary considerably across different demographics, there’s remarkably little variance in the value that audiences attach to these services.

Satisfaction levels, irrespective of a user’s age group or socio-economic profile, are astonishingly uniform. Just under three-quarters of viewers claimed to be quite or very satisfied with PSB output, including 69 percent of 16–24s.

For those individuals (15 percent of the sample) who declared that they were less satisfied with output from PSB channels than last year, the leading reasons for this dissatisfaction were the number of repeats (31 percent), a sense that “I do not find them interesting/they are boring/rubbish” (21 percent) and the presence of “too much bad language” (13 percent).

A similar sized cohort (12 percent) expressed the opposite view, claiming they were more satisfied with PSB output than a year ago. The key drivers for this upswing were “better/more choice/variety of programmes” (41 percent) followed by better quality of output more generally (16 percent) and better dramas/films (10 percent).

Overall satisfaction with PSB by age and socio-economic group. Source: Ofcom

5. PSB purposes remain important in a multichannel world

These satisfaction levels, coupled with the on-going popularity among viewers of PSB services, demonstrates that audiences still value the types of output produced by these providers.

Perhaps one of the reasons for this can be found in the core purposes which underpin PSB output. Specifically, UK PSB broadcasters are required to provide content which educates and entertain, material which is typically produced in the UK — a characteristic audiences clearly value — and reflects the diversity of life across the British Isles. [NB: Other broadcasters also provide programming meeting this criteria, but it’s not as explicitly part of their licensed remit.]

Ofcom’s consumer insight work reveals that, in a multi-channel universe, audiences increasingly value these unique traits, as PSB’s continue to offer distinctive propositions in a world where the volume of content we have access to continues to expand.

This finding is particularly prominent when parents are asked about the importance of children’s PSB programming. Despite cuts in this space, just under nine in ten parents (88%) said it is important that ‘it provides a wide range of high quality, UK-made programmes for children’. Although US originated programmes are widely available, and watched, by young audiences, their parents nonetheless attach a higher value to UK originated children’s output.

6. Total TV viewing hours have barely changed in a decade

Although the past ten years has seen an explosion of entertainment options, led by the mainstreaming of smartphones, domestic broadband and social networks, overall TV viewing hours remains strikingly similar.

In 2005, the average individual watched 219 minutes of TV a day. Fast forward to 2015 and this figure stood at 216 minutes.

Older audiences aged 45+, many of whom were amongst the last to embrace the multi-channel TV world, actually watch more TV than they did a decade ago.

This has helped to offset the more dramatic decline in viewing hours witnessed by younger audiences; many of whom are more likely to spend their time consuming other types of video content (such as clips on YouTube) instead of conventional TV shows.

This conclusion can be seen as good news for the wider TV industry, although it’s bittersweet for PSB providers. PSB’s have found that although their reach has remained strong, where older audiences are spending their additional TV viewing time, tends to be elsewhere.

Average minutes of daily viewing by channel group — Total TV, 2005–15. Image: Ofcom

7. We’ve seen a DVR explosion

Tucked away on Slide 46 of Annex B in Ofcom’s report was this striking conclusion:

Between 2007 and 2015, the proportion of individuals in television homes owning a DVR increased from 11.4 percent to 74.3 percent.”

This phenomenal growth curve is the product of cheaper DVR’s — the price of which has fallen through the floor during this time — and the embedding of DVR technology in set-top boxes (e.g. Sky+).

The latter has represented an especially consumer friendly development, meaning that audiences no longer need to purchase a second device to ensure that they have a digital recording capability.

8. But most TV viewing remains live

However, despite this explosion in DVR devices, Ofcom nonetheless found that “time-shifted among DVR owners and the general population as whole remained below a fifth of viewing in 2015,” with drama being the most time-shifted genre.

Moreover, with the exception of children and adults aged 16–24, the amount of live vs. time-shifted viewing has changed surprisingly little since 2007.

And where time-shifted viewing does tend to occur, it’s pretty evenly split between same day viewing and audiences who catch-up with what they’ve missed during the coming week.

Proportion of viewing live vs time-shifted, 2007–2015. Image: Ofcom

9. The on-demand revolution has faltered

One third of all viewing among 16–24s now being spent on on-demand services.

But large audiences still don’t use these services, despite regular promotion by broadcasters of the possibilities provided by these services.

As faster home broadband connections, coupled with 4G data services, continue to be adopted across the country it will be interesting to if this changes in the coming years.

Frequency of viewing On Demand services. Image: Ofcom.

10. PSB’s may have weathered the digital storm

Although they face competition from an unprecedented range of entertainment sources, PSB viewing as a share of total TV viewing is no longer haemorging audiences.

This is in stark contrast to the start of the millennium where this share of total TV viewing was consistently dropping by around 3 percent per annum. Since 2011 share has dropped just 3 percent in total. Compare that with the start of the noughties, where the share enjoyed by the main five PSB channels dropped from 84% in 200 to 74% by 2004, and 61 percent by 2008.

Of course, audiences may be migrating their attention to other services, including online video content (YouTube et al) as well as the new breed of distributors and content providers exemplified by Amazon Prime and Netflix.

And for advertisers, the opportunities afforded by social networks and search engines means that TV is not — and has not been for some time — the “cash cow” it once was. However, certainly when compared to their print compatriots, the resilience of PSB audiences should give TV execs some legitimate reasons to be cheerful.

Share of TV viewing, PSB vs Others, 1988–2015. Image: Ofcom

Damian Radcliffe is the Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism at the University of Oregon, a Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, an Honorary Research Fellow at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Culture Studies and a Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

He is an experienced Digital Analyst, Consultant, Journalist and Researcher — and a former Editor of TheMediaBriefing — who has worked in editorial, research, teaching and policy positions for the past two decades in the UK, Middle East and USA. Connect with him on Twitter at: @damianradcliffe

Originally published at

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