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Most TV viewing is still on the five 'main' channels, Ofcom finds

Thursday, July 14th 2016 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The five ‘main’ TV channels still account for more than half of all TV viewing, according to new research by Ofcom.

The communications regulator’s annual review of the UK’s public service broadcasters (PSBs) also shows that viewers are largely satisfied with the service provided by those channels.

The PSBs are BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, UTV in Northern Ireland, STV in Scotland and S4C in Wales.

These channels accounted for 51% of all broadcast TV viewing in 2015 – a similar figure to the past three years but down from 70% a decade earlier.

When PSBs’ portfolio channels – such as BBC Four, ITV2 and E4 – are included, their share of viewing in 2015 was 71%.

Ofcom found that the main five public service channels reached 84% of the population in a typical week.

Lindsey Clay, CEO of Thinkbox, the marketing agency for commercial TV in the UK, said the popularity of the five main channels is partly down to the “power” of the electronic programme guide (EPG).

“Most people’s first port of call when they turn on the TV is the EPG and the prominence of these channels and the quality they offer all viewers goes towards explaining their continued popularity,” she said.

According to Ofcom’s report, audiences believe the most important functions performed by PSBs are trustworthy news programmes and high quality programmes (86%) followed by programmes that help viewers understand what is happening in the world (83%).

The report shows that broadcasters are starting to place a similar emphasis in terms of investment, as spending on factual programmes and original dramas has increased.

TV viewing in decline?

It also shows that TV viewing, overall, has fallen in recent years with the average viewer watching three hours and 36 minutes of TV a day – 26 minutes less than in 2010.

Ms Clay said: “TV continues to be the UK’s most popular media choice – and by far the most popular form of video, accounting for three quarters of the average person’s video diet.

“Only one form of TV viewing has seen decline: watching live within seven days of broadcast on a TV set in the home.

“All other ways of watching TV – out of home, on new screens, catch-up, on demand – are rapidly growing.”

She said on demand services – including those run by PSBs – have replaced some live TV viewing.

“But what on demand services have really replaced is Blockbusters and to a certain extent box sets.”

Analyst Lluis Borrell, partner at Analysis Mason, said subscription-based services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime had mainly replaced DVDs because of their original focus on films.

He said on demand services might become a greater threat to broadcasters as they move their focus towards other programme types.

Mr Borrell said certain types of programmes, including sports events, news and magazines, will remain mostly live but could be viewed through an on demand service rather than a traditional broadcaster.

Changing viewing habits

Ofcom’s research shows a growing difference in the viewing habits of older and younger audiences.

Under 25s watch around 25% less broadcast TV than in 2010, while the average viewing of those aged 55-64 has only declined by 5%.

The watchdog found that people aged 16-24 have particularly embraced on demand TV, and spend around a third of their daily viewing time watching such services.

Live TV accounts for 36% of daily viewing in this age group, a 14 percentage-point decrease over the past two years.

Ms Clay said young people are splitting their TV viewing across multiple screens while previous generations only had access to one.

“So they are watching less TV on a TV set than they used to but they are spending more time watching TV online thanks to screens like tablets and smartphones.

“Their new screen behaviour makes perfect sense. Children have never controlled what is watched on the TV set, but they now have personal screens that they do control.

“They don’t have to settle for family default viewing. Yet, despite the new screens they have, they still prefer to watch TV on a TV set. Who doesn’t? Luckily, when they get older and have their own TVs, they can.”

Jane Rumble, director of market intelligence at Ofcom, said: “Our research shows that UK audiences still watch and value public service broadcasting.

“As media and technology continue to evolve, it is important that broadcasters respond to these changes, so they can keep meeting the needs and expectations of viewers.”

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