Virgin Media reported a change in viewing habits in Britain, as its 3.4 million digital cable television homes generated over half a billion video on demand views in 2008. Over half its customers regularly use its video on demand service, which of course means that half still do not.

In 2008 there were 516 million on demand views, with 56 million in December alone, which is an average of around 4 a week for every cable home. Of these, 17 million or around a third were accounted for by the BBC iPlayer, which has generated 95 million views since it launched on the Virgin Media platform in May. It will soon be joined by a similar service from ITV, alongside an existing offering from Channel 4.

“More and more viewers are abandoning TV schedules and choosing to watch the programmes they want, when they want,” said Neil Berkett, the chief executive of Virgin Media. “The launch of BBC iPlayer on our TV platform was a real tipping point in consumer understanding of on demand and we’ll continue this success with the launch of ITV Player. As we bring the nation’s favourite TV programmes to them, on the box, via PCs and on their mobiles, we are redefining how people watch TV.”

These video on demand figures need to be seen against the background of television viewing as a whole, which is around 110 hours per individual a month.

The residents of 3.4 million digital television homes on the Virgin Media network generated an average of 53 million views per month in the last quarter of 2008. The average reach was 52%, which works out at a 30 views per home a month, or around one a day. That compares to a reach of 47% for the same quarter the year before, with 33 million views per month and an average of 23 per home.

Just under half of Virgin Media cable homes still do not appear to use the video on demand services, despite considerable on air promotion for services such as the BBC iPlayer.

The reported numbers are in terms of video views, not hours of viewing, or programmes. They could be music videos or in the case of the BBC iPlayer could include programmes that were sampled but not viewed in their entirety.

While the growth of video on demand viewing is significant, the amount of catch-up consumption is still less significant than the usage of digital video recorders.

Cable currently has an advantage over satellite in the ability to offer video on demand services. That could change when Sky, which is already a leading broadband provider, finds a use for the network port in its more recent satellite set-top boxes.