Viewing of public service broadcasting channels in the United Kingdom continues to decline, particularly among younger people. Their online services have not made up for the loss of traditional viewing. Public service broadcasters no longer provide the only or necessarily the preferred source of programming that informs, educates and entertains. A five-year review from the communications regulator Ofcom summarises the state of public service broadcasting.

Television viewing in the United Kingdom has declined from an average of 4 hours and 2 minutes a day in 2010 to 3 hours 12 minutes a day in 2018.

There has been a decline in the number of minutes spent viewing the main public service channels in the United Kingdom — those of the BBC and the main channels of ITV, STV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C — while overall viewing of other channels has remained relatively stable.

Across all viewers aged 4 years or more, average viewing of public service channels has declined from 2 hours 27 minutes a day in 2010 to 1 hour 47 minutes a day in 2018.

The decline is most marked among younger viewers, with those aged 16-24 watching public service channels for an average of 1 hour 20 minutes a day in 2010 and just 38 minutes a day in 2018, although they still watch an average of 20 minutes a day on commercial portfolio channels, and 27 minutes on other channels.

BARB UK TV viewing 2010-2018. Source: BARB / Ofcom.

Meanwhile, viewing of the on-demand services, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5 has increased from 3.8 billion requests in 2014 to 6.3 billion in 2018.

6.3 billion sounds like a lot, but it works out at an average of around two requests per person per week across the country.

Ofcom suggests that time spent viewing these services remained flat in 2018 and may have declined slightly.

It does not compensate for the loss in traditional viewing experienced by public service channels.

Revenues for public service broadcasters have also fallen in real terms, from £6.4 billion in 2014 to £5.8 billion in 2018. Although the revenues from the online video services of commercial public service broadcasters has tripled over that period, they still only delivered about £300 million in 2018, compared to £3.0 billion from their broadcast channels.

Ofcom notes that the connection which some audiences, particularly younger people, have traditionally had with public service broadcast channels has diminished. It suggests that the time is right to explore new ways in which public service broadcasting could be delivered, so that audiences and the wider United Kingdom economy continue to benefit.

Small Screen: Big Debate — a five-year review of Public Service Broadcasting (2014-18) is published by the United Kingdom communications regulator Ofcom.