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Covid-19 crisis led to largest broadcast audience for six years

Posted on: August 7, 2020 by Ian Murray

The need for trusted news and information at the start of the Covid-19 crisis led to mainstream broadcasters witnessing their largest share of the viewing audience for six years, a survey from Ofcom has revealed.

“The public service broadcasters – the BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 – briefly achieved their highest combined monthly share of broadcast TV viewing in more than six years in March (59%), driven by a demand for trusted news programmes as the pandemic grew,” found the broadcast regulator.

In its latest study into the UK’s media habits, Ofcom found there had been a surge in screen time during lockdown which saw people in the UK spend 40% of their day watching TV and online video services.

Commenting on the report, Ofcom states:

“As people across the UK followed official health advice to stay at home during April, they kept themselves informed and entertained by spending an average of six hours and 25 minutes each day watching TV and online video content – a total of almost 45 hours a week, and a rise of almost a third on last year.

“The biggest factor behind this increase was people spending twice as much time watching subscription streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video. The trend was even higher among 16- to 34-year-olds.

“Our Media Nations 2020 report also found that an estimated 12 million people signed up to a new video streaming service during lockdown, with around three million subscribing to one of these services for the first time.

“Some of these were older viewers who previously watched only broadcast TV. A third of 55- to 64-year-olds, and 15% of people aged 65 or over used subscription streaming services in the early weeks of lockdown – up from 25% and 12% respectively before the pandemic.

“Disney+, which launched on the first day of the lockdown, made an immediate impact. The new service attracted 16% of online adults by early July, surpassing NOW TV (10%) to become the third most-popular subscription streaming service behind Netflix (45%) and Amazon Prime Video (39%).

“Among children aged 3 to 11, Disney+ was used in a third of homes by June – overtaking BBC iPlayer which saw use among these children fall from 26% to 22% during the spring.

“The BBC was the most popular source of news and information about Covid-19 – used by eight in ten adults during the first week of lockdown.

“Broadcasters’ video-on demand services were also successful in lockdown. Dramas Normal People and Killing Eve helped BBC iPlayer attract a record 570 million programme requests in May 2020 – 72% higher than in May 2019. Similarly, Channel 4’s on-demand service, All 4, generated 30% more views among 16-34s in the first two weeks of lockdown; and viewers spent 82% more time on ITV Hub.

“As lockdown measures eased towards the end of June, the uplift in viewing to video streaming services and other non-broadcast content held steady, at 71% higher than the year before. In contrast, by the end of June, traditional broadcast TV viewing declined from its peak in early lockdown – falling 44 minutes to 3 hours 2 minutes per day. Broadcast TV viewing is now comparably lower than it was in 2014-2017, although it remains 11% higher than this time last year.”

The report added that the nation’s adoption of streaming services appears likely to continue after lockdown. The overwhelming majority of online adults signed up to Netflix (96%), Amazon Prime Video (91%) and Disney+ (84%) said they plan to keep their subscriptions in the months ahead.

Similarly, more than half of people say they will continue to spend the same amount of time watching streamed content in future as they did during lockdown.