Broadcast TV sees record decline as viewers turn to streaming and short-form video – Ofcom report

The proportion of viewers who tune in to traditional broadcast TV each week has seen the sharpest ever annual fall – from 83 per cent in 2021 to 79 per cent in 2022. BBC One remains the only channel to reach more than half of the viewing population every week. These are two of the key findings from Media Nations 2023, Ofcom’s latest annual report on the TV, online video, radio and audio sectors.

Time spent watching broadcast TV is down 12 per cent. A similar decline is evident in the average time that viewers spend watching broadcast TV each day – down from 2 hours 59 minutes in 2021, to 2 hours 38 minutes in 2022 (-12 per cent). For the first time, there is evidence of a significant decline in average daily broadcast TV viewing among ‘core’ older audiences (aged 65+) – a drop of 8 per cent year on year, and down 6 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.

Ofcom’s data also suggests that older viewers are diversifying their viewing and becoming more likely to take up streaming services, although household take-up of these services overall appears to be plateauing. The proportion of over-64s subscribing to Disney+, for example, increased from 7 per cent in 2022 to 12 per cent in 2023.

The report reveals another notable shift in the broadcast TV landscape – a steep decline in the number of programmes attracting ‘mass audiences’. The number of programmes with more than four million TV viewers has halved over the past eight years, from 2,490 in 2014, to 1,184 in 2022.

While the number of programmes with large audiences is down across all genres, these declines are a reflection of fewer people watching the main early and late evening TV news bulletins, as well as a steady decline in viewing figures for the three most popular soaps: Coronation Street, EastEnders and Emmerdale. Since 2014, news programmes attracting 4m+ viewers are down 72 per cent – from 537 to 148 programmes, while mass audience soap episodes are down 42 per cent, from 754 to 438 programmes.

In comparison, only 48 programmes averaged more than 4m TV viewers on streaming platforms in 2022, with Netflix accounting for the vast majority. High levels of viewing to these services are spread across the tens of thousands of episodes available in their libraries, illustrating just how fragmented the viewing landscape has become.

Despite the continuing decline of traditional broadcast TV viewing, BBC One (20 per cent) and ITV1 (13 per cent) are still the top two first destinations for viewers when they turn on their TV, with Netflix coming in third (6 per cent). In addition, watching broadcasters’ content – either live, on recorded playback or streamed on-demand – still accounts for the greatest proportion of all time spent each day watching TV and video (60 per cent, 2 hours 41 minutes per person, per day).

With broadcasters digitalising their services to meet audiences’ changing needs, use of their video-on-demand services, such as BBC iPlayer and ITVX, continues to grow. ITVX accounted for 10 per cent of ITV’s total viewing in the first half of 2023, up from 7 per cent across 2022. BBC iPlayer rose from 14 per cent of the BBC’s total viewing to 18 per cent during the same time period.

The report also reveals that children and young adults under 25 have collectively decreased their average daily broadcast viewing by 73 per cent since 2012. For the first time, 16-24-year-olds watched less broadcast TV on average than children aged 4-15 (39 minutes per day compared to 41). Evidence suggests they’re tuning in for only one or two programmes per day, mainly for genres such as sport and popular entertainment or reality programming.

Social video platforms remain a major part of youngsters’ daily media habits. In March 2023, 5.2m 15-24-year-olds visited TikTok, spending an average of 58 minutes per day on the platform. This was followed by Snapchat (52 minutes), YouTube (48 minutes) and Instagram (25 minutes).

‘Snackable’ short-form video content lasting less than 10 minutes is particularly popular. Nearly seven in 10 (68 per cent) 15-24s claim to watch short-from videos daily, with YouTube the most popular destination for this kind of content.

Live radio continues to reach the majority of adults across the UK, with 88 per cent of people tuning in for an average of 20 hours each week across digital, analogue and online platforms. This listening has previously been split more or less equally between BBC and commercial radio stations, but over the past year, commercial radio consolidated its position as market leader to take a 51.4 per cent share in Q1 2023 – five percentage points clear of the BBC.

Radio listening continues to shift to online, with smart speakers now accounting for a fifth of in-home radio listening (20 per cent). A fifth of adults’ audio listening is to streamed music (21 per cent), although this increases to 50 per cent among 15-34s.

Around one in five adults (20 per cent) listen to podcasts each week, with the increase largely driven by listeners aged 25-44. Older teens and younger adults, however, appear to be turning away from podcasts, with weekly listening among 15-24s falling to just under 22 per cent in Q1 2023.

“Today’s viewers and listeners have an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet of broadcasting and online content to choose from, and there’s more competition for our attention than ever,” said Yih-Choung Teh, Group Director, Strategy and Research at Ofcom. “Our traditional broadcasters are seeing steep declines in viewing to their scheduled, live programmes – including among typically loyal older audiences – and soaps and news programmes don’t have the mass-audience pulling power they once had.

“But despite this, public service broadcasters are still unrivalled in bringing the nation together at important cultural and sporting moments, while their on-demand players are seeing positive growth as they digitalise their services to meet audience needs.”