A Year in TV, the annual review from Thinkbox, the marketing body for commercial television in the United Kingdom, presents the impression that television viewing remains robust, indeed dominant. An end of term report from the BBC Trust, with little to lose as its supervision of the corporation comes to an end, portrays a more troubling picture, with half of all viewing of the main BBC One channel now coming from those aged over 60.
The Thinkbox review is full of colourful charts that show how important television remains as a medium.
Television accounts for over 40% of media use among those aged over 15 in the United Kingdom. Radio comes next at 18%, followed by messaging, emailing and video calling at 16% and social media at 8%. Online video, including subscription video services like Netflix, only accounts for 3%, as reported by IPA Touchpoints research.
Total video viewing is 4 hours 37 minutes a day, averaged across all individuals aged over two years old. Television makes up three quarters of all video viewing, with live television accounting for 60%. Subscription video services, like Netflix, account for 4.1% of viewing, slightly less than online porn at 4.9%.
In 2016, average television viewing within seven days of broadcast was just over 3.5 hours a day, down from 4.0 hours at its peak in 2010, but only four minutes less than in 2006.
Two thirds of this viewing was to commercial television, meaning average viewing across all individuals was 2 hours 22 minutes a day. Even among children aged 4-15 it was 1 hour 16 minutes a day, about a quarter of an hour less than ten years previously. It is down about the same amount for those aged 16-34, but still averages at 1 hour 46 minutes a day of commercial television viewing.
Television also accounts for over 85% of all video advertising time viewed, averaged across all individuals, or 78% among those aged 16-24.
Apparently, people in the United Kingdom watch an average of 45 television commercials at day at normal speed. That is six adverts a day more than a decade previously and adds up to 2.64 billion television adverts a day.
Although digital video recorder penetration has risen to 60% of homes in the United Kingdom, 86% of all television viewed on a television set is watched at the time of transmission, and a further 6% is viewed on the same day, leaving just 8% viewed time-shifted. In homes with video recorders, 82% of television is watched as it is broadcast.
Standard television reporting only includes viewing within seven days of transmission. If viewing between 8-28 days of transmission is included, together with viewing of online services from broadcasters, average daily television viewing rises to 3 hours and 44 minutes a day, which is higher than it was in 2006.
Based on data from broadcasters, averaged across the population, only four minutes a day of programming is on devices such as computers, phones or tablets.
People tend to over-estimate their use of online video. When asked, they estimated on average that they watch subscription video services for over half an hour a day. Actual viewing, as measured by comScore, was 11 minutes a day. They also estimated on average that they watched YouTube for 40 minutes a day, although measured usage was 16 minutes a day.
Among those aged 25-34, television viewing increases for those with children, while online viewing decreases. While life stage is not necessarily a predictor of future behaviour, the report suggests “it is not unreasonable to think that this life stage effect will continue”.
The Thinkbox report is clearly a celebration of television as a commercial medium, but the research that it represents provides another useful antidote to the online meme that television viewing is dead or dying.
While it is fashionable to concentrate on so-called millennials, they may grow up to be more like their parents than they might wish to think. However, they are progressing through life stages more slowly than ever, taking longer to form households and families.
That said, television audiences in general are getting older, and if one thing is certain, none of us is getting any younger.
An End of Charter Report that also marks the end of the BBC Trust, which will be replaced by a BBC Board and regulation by Ofcom, provides a more sombre assessment
It reveals that the median age of viewer to BBC One and Two was 59 and 60 in 2014 but had risen to 61 and 62 respectively in 2016.
The Trust said, “Trends in how young people watch television channels appear to have worked against the BBC’s attempts to meet this challenge”. Only two thirds of those aged 16-34 watch more than 15 minutes of BBC Television a week, although the BBC has the highest reach among this age group of all public service broadcasters in the country.
The reach of BBC television among all adults has fallen from 89% to 82% over five years, and while reach of BBC online service has risen from 41% to 52%, the BBC iPlayer is used weekly by 13% of adults, which is about the same as Netflix, and by 21% of those aged 16-34, second to Netflix.
The report suggests: “If the audience reach of broadcast services continues to fall, then use of BBC online must grow, or the BBC’s ability to serve all audiences will be challenged.”
A Year in TV 2016 is available from Thinkbox. The End of Charter Report is published by the BBC Trust.