Despite the expansion in various ways to watch video, live television accounts for over half of average viewing per person in the United Kingdom. A study suggests its enduring popularity is because it satisfies the widest range of our viewing needs for more time than any other type of video.

The study commissioned by Thinkbox has identified eight main need states that are satisfied by watching television and video.

In order of time spent, they are:

  • Unwind, to relax and de-stress from the pressures of the day
  • Distract, to fill time, counter boredom and have a break
  • Comfort, to share time together with familiar shows
  • In touch, to feel aware of what is happening in the world
  • Experience, to watch together, or join the social conversation
  • Indulge, to pursue personal interests or guilty pleasures
  • Escape, to lose yourself in another world
  • Do, to seek out useful, practical information.

One might argue about the definitions, but it seems evident that television and video fulfil different needs at different times.

Last time Thinkbox conducted this research, five years previously, it came up with six main reasons that people watch television. As informitv noted at the time, that seemed rather simplistic. The additions this time are to distract and to do.

The Age of Television study was based on a qualitative analysis of television and video viewing recorded through camera glasses worn by 30 people, and a quantitative study of 6,000 people in the United Kingdom.

Viewing Need States. Source: The Age of Television, Thinkbox, MTM

The research attributed 26% of viewing time to the need to unwind, and a further 18% to the need to distract or counter boredom.

Within the category of unwind, live television accounted for 56% of viewing by adults. Together with playback television and broadcaster video on demand it accounted for 72% of viewing.

For the category of distract, live television accounted for 44% of viewing by adults, while online video, other than broadcaster video on demand and subscription services, accounted for 30% of viewing.

Live television accounted for 62% of adult viewing for comfort, or 80% including playback and broadcaster video on demand.

For keeping in touch with political, social and cultural events, live television accounted for 77% of viewing.

For the need to feel part of a shared viewing experience live television accounted for 68% of viewing.

There were significant differences for many categories of viewing between the use by all adults and those aged 16.-34. Among the latter, live television generally accounted for less viewing, with online delivering more, as one might expect. However, the study notes that viewer behaviour is associated with life stage.

“This research explains why different forms of video co-exist and why TV broadcasters’ live and on-demand offerings continue to make up the vast majority of video viewing time,” said Matt Hill, the research and planning director at Thinkbox. “It also shows how services like Netflix have emerged to super-serve some of our needs when we watch TV, but that they can’t reach all the places TV can — especially the more social and shared reasons to watch, which are so important to people.”