The ways in which we watch television are continuing to evolve, with online viewing increasing, but traditional broadcast television remains overwhelmingly the most important way of watching in the United Kingdom. For some it is still the only practical option. There is a growing digital divide between those that benefit from ‘superfast’ broadband and those that are still struggling to receive an acceptable user experience. The Ofcom Connected Nations Report reveals a less than united kingdom, with millions of homes across the country still receiving limited broadband services.
The growing use of new broadcast technologies is changing the way in which people watch television. More programming is being viewed over the internet than ever before, but most viewing continues to be to linear broadcast television.
As Ofcom notes, although viewer behaviour is changing, this change is taking place slowly. Some continue to watch many hours of traditional television per week. Others, who tend to be younger, do not even have a television set and watch anything online.
The overwhelming majority of television viewing continues to be to programmes at the time of broadcast. This still constitutes 85% of television viewing, compared to 92% in 2010. However, the take-up of on-demand and online viewing is continuing to grow. In the first half of 2014 it accounted for 6% of viewing, compared to 4% the previous year.
Online viewing is being driven by adoption of connected devices and faster broadband, take-up of services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Now TV, with catch-up viewing increasingly substituting for watching programmes previously recorded on a digital video recorder, facilitated by improved ease of use.
The number of television homes continues to fall, albeit slowly. BARB establishment survey data shows that the number of homes in the United Kingdom with at least one television has fallen from 26.48 million in 2013, to 26.28 million in 2014 and 26.04 million in 2015. Yet it was only 26.20 million at the end of 2010, so it is hardly a dramatic decline.
The number of homes with no conventional television but with a broadband connection has risen to 1.1 million homes in the United Kingdom, representing 4.3% of all households.
The future capacity demands on traditional broadcast and broadband infrastructure is likely to depend on the extent to which the on-demand and online viewing habits of a currently small proportion of the population are adopted more widely over time.
Whether you are even able to benefit from many online video services depends where you live.
Ofcom suggests that broadband adoption has reached 78% of premises in the United Kingdom, with an average download ‘sync’ connection speed of 28 megabits per second and an average upload speed of 8Mbps, as reported by operators such as BT and Virgin Media. Actual performance may be lower than this.
That is small consolation to those in rural regions. Around one in ten premises in the United Kingdom is in a rural area, served only by BT Openreach. Nearly half of premises in rural areas cannot receive 10Mbps downstream, accounting for 8% of all premises in the United Kingdom. One in five rural premises are unable to receive speeds higher than 5Mbps. Almost one in ten receive less than 2Mbps.
Ofcom says that 83% of premises in the United Kingdom, some 24 million, are now theoretically able to receive ‘superfast’ broadband of 30Mbps or more, although fewer than one in three premises actually do so. Coverage in rural areas still only reaches 37% in rural areas, or 31% in Scotland.
Almost 5 million premises are in areas that are still not covered by superfast broadband and a further 2 million are in areas that have been upgraded but are still unable to receive speeds of 30Mbps.
The problem is not limited to rural areas. Ironically, there are still many areas in Westminster, in the heart of London, that are unable to receive adequate broadband.
In November, the prime minister announced plans to introduce a universal service obligation, giving anyone in the country the legal right to request a fixed internet connection with speeds of 10Mbps. The current obligation on providers such as BT is only to provide a service capable of 28.8Kbps, the speed of a basic dial-up connection.
The Connected Nations 2015 report is available for download from the Ofcom web site.