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Ofcom publishes findings from third Media Nations Report

Lockdown leads to surge in TV screen time and streaming in the UK.

Ofcom has published its third annual Media Nations Report, reviewing the key TV and online media trends in the UK, specifically addressing the “eventful and challenging period for the UK media industry” during the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown.

Here we unpick some of the key findings in the report, beyond the headline-grabbing “adults spend 40% of their day in front of screen during height of lockdown” and what the report tells us about longer term shifts in consumer behaviour with regards to audiovisual content. You can access the full Ofcom report here, as well as an interactive version.

A surge in screen time

Ofcom found that consumer behaviour was significantly affected by the pandemic, with the average amount of time people spent watching audiovisual content increased to an estimated 6 hours 25 minutes per person, per day, in April 2020—a ninety minute increase from the previous year. The beneficiary of this increase was broadcast television, driven by news consumption (such as the daily briefings from No. 10), though this declined somewhat as lockdown eased. But looking longer term, the increase in subscriptions to online services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime continued at a rapid pace. An estimated 12 million online adults took up a new SVoD subscription during lockdown, with around 3 million subscribing for the first time. Disney+’s launch date of 24 March (the start of UK lockdown) supported rapid take-up: it became the third most-subscribed-to SVoD service with 16% of online adults subscribing by early July.

A mixed picture for public service broadcasters

While BBC services were the most-used source of news and information about COVID-19, well ahead of other broadcasters, social media and other sources, ITV and Channel 4 were also rated as trusted sources of news and information by more than 80% of people at the start of lockdown.

However, challenges face the broadcasters as the pandemic interrupted production of soaps, major sporting events and entertainment shows, leading to schedule gaps, and more worryingly cost-cutting measures amid financial uncertainty due to a loss in advertising revenue. Ofcom highlights that revenue from online video advertising will be increasingly important: broadcaster video-on demand (BVoD) ad revenue has increased by an average of 24% a year in real terms between 2015 and 2019, reaching £452m last year (but perhaps not enough to counteract losses in TV spot ads). Developments in technology will play a part in broadcasters’ hope in attracting SMEs to advertising, via ‘addressable advertising’ and granular targeting of audiences.

Advertising revenue also a concern for radio

Radio listening was broadly resilient during lockdown, but reduced in-car listening and the closure of workspaces, meant an estimated 14% of online adults stopped listening to the radio. Overall, audio listening time remained stable at 70%. YouTube appeared to (ear)plug a gap during lockdown, music was the most popular genre of video streamed on the platform, and used by 75% of adults. However, radio broadcasters face a potential decline in advertising revenue of 21% for 2020. BBC Sounds remains a close competitor of Apple Podcasts and Spotify with podcast listening figures getting a boost in lockdown.

The post-lockdown picture

Yin-Cheong Teh, Ofcom’s Strategy and Research Group Director, stated it clearly in the report’s release: "UK broadcasters face a tough advertising market, production challenges and financial uncertainty. So they need to keep demonstrating that value in the face of intense competition from streaming services.” While the surge in streaming presents a challenge to PSBs, the value of UK content—from news to Normal People—has been verified in a nation locked down, but switched on.


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