Traditional television viewing in the United Kingdom fell for the second consecutive year. Viewing of television channels at the time they are transmitted is down half an hour a day since 2010. It still accounts for an average of nearly three and a quarter hours a day and represents the vast majority of all viewing. Usage of digital video recorders is increasing but may be under represented in ratings reports. On average people use the television for over half an hour a day that is not accounted for by ratings reports. So they may actually be watching more television programming than they were a decade ago, as informitv explains.
The apparent decline in viewing is accounted for by the decrease in watching programmes at the time of transmission.
Across the television viewing population the proportion of time spent watching time-shifted programming has grown incrementally each year to reach 12% of television viewing in 2014.
Nearly three quarters of people in the United Kingdom now have a digital video recorder in their home, up from 48% in 2010 to 73% in 2014.
Among those with a digital video recorder, timeshifted viewing apparently rises to 17% of all viewing. For those aged 25-34 it rises to 24%.
Viewing of drama is most likely to be time-shifted. 32% of viewing of imported dramas from the United States and other countries is time-shifted. For domestic soap operas it is 23%, while for other drama produced in the United Kingdom it is 22%.
Drama, in various forms, accounts for around 16% of overall television viewing hours.
Yet there is a key limitation in the current BARB data, which only accounts for programmes viewed within seven days of transmission in its so-called gold standard data. Many people may be catching up with programmes within a week. They may also have a large library of programmes, possibly hundreds of hours of viewing, stored on their digital video recorder.
A Sky+ box can store up to 250 hours of high-definition programming. Clearly that is more than can be watched in a week. It is more than ten times as much as the average person watches in a week, and nearly eighty times as much as average time-shifted viewing, according to television ratings research.
This does not include hundreds of hours of ‘box set’ series that are now available through the video-on-demand services of pay-television platforms.
Rather bizarrely, watching anything over a week old does not count as television viewing. So perhaps it is no surprise that reported television viewing is down, as many viewers become more accustomed to watching programmes they have previously recorded for later viewing.
Many people may have stored up programmes that they may never watch, which they may be keeping for a rainy day. One of the advantages of a digital video recorder over online catch-up services is that you can generally retain programmes for as long as storage space allows. Another advantage is the ability to skip through adverts, watching programmes in less time, without annoying interruptions.
So, one might question, did people in the United Kingdom watch an average of 13 minutes less live and time-shifted television in 2014 than in 2013? Or did they watch an hour and a half a week more programming later than a week after transmission?
The apparent decline in television viewing is built into the BARB methodology. According to BARB, people in the United Kingdom watched an average of 220 minutes of television a day in 2014, compared to 242 minutes in 2010, a fall of 22 minutes a day. This has been widely reported as evidence of a declining trend in television viewing.
In fact, it is only 5 minutes a day less than average television viewing in 2009, before BARB changed its research methodology.
Those aged over 16 still actually spent an average of just a minute under four hours a day watching broadcast television in 2014, according to BARB figures, which remains a massive volume of viewing.
The greatest reported fall in viewing is among those aged between 4 and 44, who watched up to 17 minutes less television a day in 2014 compared to the previous year.
If BARB were to report viewing of programmes irrespective of when they were actually transmitted, we might find that television viewing is much they same as it has been for many years.
BARB data identifies 5 minutes per person per day of programmes viewed between 8-28 days of broadcast. It also identifies an average of 29 minutes a day of ‘unmatched viewing’. That includes video games, discs, apps on connected televisions, and subscription video on demand services such as Netflix.
That is over half an hour a day when people are watching television that is not routinely reported by BARB.
This unmatched viewing has only been reported by BARB for a couple of years, so it is difficult to draw comparisons with the past.
However it is clear that the opportunities to use the television screen in different ways have expanded considerably in recent years.
Half the apparent decline in daily viewing over the last year can be accounted for by an increase in watching more than seven days after transmission and other unmatched viewing.
However, the conclusion that people watched the same amount of television programming as they did five years ago, give or take half an hour a day, does not make for a very exciting headline.
The United Kingdom communications regulator Ofcom presents a range of BARB statistics on viewing data in its annual report on communications usage. The Communications Market 2015 is available from the Ofcom web site.