Almost a fifth of television viewing in the United Kingdom is not reflected in traditional ratings. 7.3 million homes or 20.8 million individuals in the country have access to Netflix. Yet only about 1.5% of television use comes from dedicated media streaming devices. The biggest audiences are still for programmes on the BBC.
Viewing that does not correspond to programming broadcast on rated channels within the previous 28 days is known as unmatched viewing in the terminology of BARB, which provides viewing figures for television audiences in the United Kingdom.
Unmatched viewing accounted for around 14% of all television set activity in 2016, reaching almost 19% in late 2017. Some of this can be attributed to the use of games consoles but it also covers playback of recordings over 28 days old, discs and online video services.
In the first three quarters of 2017, 30% of unmatched viewing came from the television itself through integrated applications or plugin dongle devices. Another 23% came from television service provider set-top boxes. A further 23% came from games consoles, most of which is likely to be from gaming, although these also enable online video. Just 8% of unmatched viewing came from other attached internet devices.
So of the less than 20% of all television viewing that does not contribute to ratings, only 8% comes from devices like Roku, Apple TV or Amazon Fire. That is about 1.5% of total television viewing.
BARB assumes that much of the unmatched viewing comes from online video subscription services, but it does not take account of other services, like YouTube.
Currently BARB is unable to measure viewing of online video subscription services like Netflix and Amazon. However, it does track the availability of such services in its Establishment Survey.
BARB surveys suggest that around nine million households in the United Kingdom subscribe to at least one online video service, with around 12 million subscriptions in total.
There are 7.5 million Netflix homes, 3.8 million with Amazon Video, and 1.4 million for NOW TV. Netflix grew by 22% year on year but added 1.4 million homes. Amazon Video grew by 51%, while NOW TV gained 70%.
There is also considerable overlap between these services. Over 30% of Netflix subscribers were also Amazon Prime customers, while 60% of the latter subscribe to Netflix.
Netflix is also relatively more popular in Sky, Virgin Media and YouView homes. Over a third of Sky homes and approaching half of a Virgin Media homes also subscribe to Netflix.
Over half of those aged 16-24 have access to Netflix, but this falls to below one in ten of those aged over 65.
Given the prevalence of online video subscription services, it is notable that the amount of viewing of these services on television is still relatively small compared to programmes on rated channels. Of course, this does not take into account online viewing on computers, tablets and phones, and only around a third of homes have such online video subscription services.
Indeed, the heaviest television viewers, who are generally retired, with more time to watch, are least likely to subscribe to such services.
There is a popular view that people are watching less traditional television and that they are turning instead to services like Netflix. However, such services appear to be an adjunct and a supplement to traditional television, rather than a replacement for other subscription television services.
However, Sky has lost some satellite television homes, while the number relying only on terrestrial television has risen.
BARB estimates that there were 8.85 million Sky subscribers in mid-2017, compared to 9.02 million in mid-2016, 9.06 million in mid-2015, from a high of 9.4 million in mid-2012. Over that period the number of homes with only terrestrial television has risen from 10.72 million to 11.27 million.
The most watched programme on television in the last week of 2017 was not a drama series or serial; it was once again the New Year’s Eve Fireworks on BBC One — scheduled, orchestrated, but unscripted. 10.4 million people were watching at midnight, not for a story or to find out what happened next but to share a moment with the rest of the country.
Needless to say, the vast majority of them were watching at the time of transmission, or were at least in the room with the television switched on, which is the rather undemanding definition of watching television in BARB terms.
The most watched programme of the year was the first episode of the Blue Planet II nature documentary series, first broadcast on 29 October. It was watched by 8.57 million at the time of transmission, a further 5.44 million within seven days, for a total audience of 14.01 million within seven days, with a further 0.87 million watching within 28 days.
One could imagine Netflix, Amazon or Apple having the ambition and capability to commission a programme like Blue Planet II but it would be unlikely to have the same reach, at least for a while.