Usage of interactive television in the UK is increasing, with over a fifth of digital viewers reporting that they use such services at least once a week. The latest figures come in the first in a series of annual reports by Ofcom, covering radio, television and telecommunications.

The publication, The Communications Market 2004, pulls together a comprehensive survey of the communications market in the UK, intended to provide a research context for regulation.

Ed Richards, Ofcom’s senior partner, strategy and market developments, said that consumers are setting aside more of both their time and money for media and communications services. “There are also fundamental economic shifts in the landscape with long-term significance. The advance of digital technology brings increased consumer choice and greater innovation.”

Subscription overtakes advertising
For the first time, subscription revenues overtook advertising to become the largest single source of revenues for the UK television industry. Total subscription revenue of £3,202m exceeded net advertising income of £3,148m, with the licence fee funding £2,233m. Other revenue streams, including sponsorship, sales from shopping channels, use of premium rate telephony and interactive services, generated revenues of £951m, up by over 50% on the previous year, pointing to a potential change in the way programmes are funded.

Consumption increasing
Consumption of radio, television and telecommunications is generally growing. The vast majority of people watch television every day and 82% of adults live in homes with more than one television. The number of hours spent viewing each week has remained remarkably constant, actually increasing over the last decade, despite demands from other forms of electronic communication. Over half of households have internet access and nearly half of all adults claim to use it daily.

Digital uptake rising
Over half of UK homes have digital television, a total of 13 million homes, up 22% on the previous year.

DVD is currently the fastest growing new home technology with 45% of adults claiming to own a DVD player at the end of 2003, up from 5% in 2000. In contrast video cassette recorder ownership is now static, if not actually falling.

Digital video recorders are the most recent and least established technology in the television marketplace but may have the greatest potential to change the way people consume television in the long term.

Interactive services
Interactive television services have been used by 43% of digital viewers, with 21% claiming to use such services at least once a week. These figures both represent a significant increase on the numbers in 2002, when just over a third of digital viewers had used such services and only 15% did so at least once a week. Among the 16-24 age range, usage rises to 36% a week, with just over six out of ten agreeing with the statement that “interactive services enhance television viewing for the viewer”.

Only 30% of viewers have ever contacted or responded to programmes via telephone, text message or email, although women were more likely to have done so than men (35% compared with 26%). Women aged 16-24 are most likely to have contacted or responded in this way (40%).

Similarly, only a fifth of digital viewers have bought products or services via their remote control or by telephoning particular channels or programmes. This rises to a quarter in the 25-44 age range, and again women are more likely to have done so than men.

In general, there is some doubt about the value of other interactive services delivered through the TV. Only half of all respondents agreed that services such as email, games and internet access delivered through the TV are attractive, although this rises to 69% of 16-24s and 62% of multichannel viewers. Only a fifth would be willing to pay for other services such as banking, home shopping and internet access through their television.

Around a half of multichannel viewers have bought programmes via pay-per-view, 39% watching films, 24% sport, with other programmes making up only 1%, although perhaps those watching adult channels also watch films or sport.

Only a quarter of those between 16-24 claim never to have watched anything on pay-per-view compared with 41% of 25-44s, 61% of 45-64s and 75% of thos over 65.

The use of teletext amongst those who have access to it decreased in 2003, with 34% using the service almost every day, compared to 36% the previous year and 46% in 1997. Occasional users also dropped slightly to just under half of those with teletext.

75% of respondents thought that there should be more information about the content of programmes to help them decide what to watch.