The proportion of homes in the United Kingdom with digital television fell for the first time in 2014, declining to 96% compared to 98% the previous year. Digital television adoption had previously risen consistently year on year until analogue transmissions ended in 2012. Pay-television adoption meanwhile continues to rise, according to the survey by communications regulator Ofcom, and is highest among respondents aged 25-44.
The data published in the Ofcom Consumer Experience report are from its own communications tracker survey from the second quarter of 2014. The number of homes with digital television previously reached 98% in 2013, having been at 94% since the end of analogue television transmissions.
This is broadly consistent with the BARB Establishment Survey, which shows that the percentage of households with television fell from 96% at the end of 2012 to 95% at the end of 2013.
In absolute terms, BARB reports there were 26.0 million digital television households in the United Kingdom in mid-2014, compared to 26.5 million in January 2013 and 25.7 million the year before.
The recent decline may be attributable to households that do not own a television, or use a television that does not receive any broadcast signal. In some cases they may view audio-visual material only over an IP connection.
Ofcom found that students are most likely to be without television, which has long been true, with 15% now living in a household without a television. 7% of those aged 16-34 lived in a household without television. Only 2% of those in the AB socio-economic group did not have television, compared to 5% in the C1 group.
Around half of all adults in the United Kingdom access multichannel television at home through an aerial, with 34% using only Freeview. This compares to 30% using only satellite and 14% using only cable.
Older respondents are more likely to have only terrestrial television. The Ofcom survey shows that 65% of those aged over 75 only had Freeview. In younger groups the proportion only having Freeview fell, notably for those aged over 45, with the number falling from 50% to 40% among those aged 65-74.
However, based on the primary television in the home, BARB data puts satellite at 41%, cable at 15%, and terrestrial at 39%.
Based on BARB data, the number of homes relying on digital terrestrial television has dropped by a percentage point, which is within the bounds of sampling and rounding errors.
Ofcom reports that just over six in ten adults receive pay-TV. The proportion has risen from 58% in 2013 to 61% in 2014. The increase for pay-TV is evident across all age and socio-economic groups, apart from those aged over 75.
Subscription television is highest among those aged 25-44, at 68%, and among those in the AB socio-economic group at 70%.
There are some inconsistencies between the Ofcom and BARB data, as a result of different survey methodologies. What is clear is that there has been a small but significant fall in the total proportion of television homes, while the adoption of pay television has been rising.
Television remains a largely universal medium. Adoption remains higher than mobile phones at 95%, fixed line phones at 84%, and broadband at 78%.
Although the proportion of satellite and cable homes has remained relatively stable, there are now new ways to receive pay-television services, such as the NOW TV package from Sky, delivered over broadband.
If we also consider services such as Netflix in this context, the proportion of people paying for a television or video service seems likely to rise further.
With seven out of ten respondents aged 25-44 or in the most affluent socio-economic group taking pay television, only a third of all homes are now reliant solely on terrestrial transmissions, although the free-to-air channels still account for the majority of all viewing.
The Consumer Experience of 2014 is published by Ofcom and contains a range of data based partly on its own market research.