Although viewing to the main public service channels in the United Kingdom has declined over the last ten years, they continue to account for half of all television viewing time. Of the three and half hours people watched a day on average, the portfolio channels of the five public service broadcasters account for 70% of broadcast viewing on television. However, television viewing by children continues to decline, falling by ten minutes per day to just over 1 hour 40 minutes in 2016.
Total television screen time, as measured by BARB, including ‘unmatched’ non-broadcast programming, has remained remarkably consistent, at 252 minutes per day, averaged across all individuals, which is similar to the previous two years. Of that, over 70% is still live television viewing.
Research from Ofcom, in its Technology Tracker survey in the first half of 2017, suggests that 35% of those aged over 16 had used an online live or catch-up television service in the previous week, compared to 14% that had used a subscription service like Netflix or Amazon Prime.
BARB reports that average television viewing across all individuals aged over four was 3 hours 32 minutes a day, compared to just over four hours in 2010.
The five designated public service channels, that is BBC One and Two, the channel 3 licence, Channel 4, and Channel 5, accounted for 51% of viewing in 2016, and their associated ‘portfolio’ channels added a further 19%.
Viewing by children and young adults has fallen dramatically by about a third over that period, with an 8.8% decline for children in the course of 2016.
Viewing has remained relatively stable among those aged over 55, who represent almost half of all viewers. 77% of viewers to BBC One are aged over 45.
BBC Three, with a younger audience profile, with only 33% over 45, ceased broadcasting as a linear channel in a move to follow its viewers online, allowing CBBC to stay on air until 9pm.
Weekly reach, a measure of those watching at least 15 consecutive minutes of television a week, was 91% across all individuals, ranging from 97% for those aged over 65 to 86% for children.
Children’s television viewing has declined dramatically from just over 150 minutes a day in 2010 for those aged 4-15 to just over 100 minutes a day in 2016. The BBC receives about a quarter of that viewing, while non public service channels account for nearly 45%.
About a third of viewing in this age group is to children’s programmes, of which about a third is to the dedicated CBBC and CBeebies channels from the BBC. Of around 512 hours a year of television watched on average by children, these two channels make up about 10% of their viewing.
Blue Peter was once the epitome of public service broadcasting for generations of children but appears to have lost its famous appeal. A recent broadcast received a zero rating, meaning that it was not watched in any of the 5,000 or so homes in which viewing is measured.
That was for a sign language repeat broadcast during school hours, as the BBC was quick to point out. It said the episode was watched by just over a quarter of a million viewers across all broadcasts and was played 39,000 times on the BBC iPlayer.
It is still a long way from the 8 million or more that once watched Blue Peter in its prime on the main BBC channel, when its presenters were household names.
The BBC has said it will spend an additional £34 million over three years on children’s services. That will see the budget for children reach £124 million, with a quarter being spent online.
Tony Hall, the director general of the BBC said “We’re making BBC Children’s fit for the future, maintaining our world-class channels whilst enhancing our online offer to meet the needs of the next generation.”
While the BBC leads the way in programmes for younger viewers, especially those of pre-school age, the risk is that they move online to watch what they want, when they want.
“Our audience is rapidly changing and now more than ever we need to keep up,” said Alice Webb, who is responsible for children’s output at the BBC. “We’re home to the most popular kids TV channels in the UK, but as our audience increasingly move online it’s our job to stay relevant, inspiring and engaging them on whichever platform they choose.”
The annual PSB Annual Research Report 2017 is published by the United Kingdom communications regulator Ofcom and includes a range of useful statistics about television viewing.