UK's TV & online habits revealed, 40 mn watch episodes back-to-back

MUMBAI: The UK has become a nation of binge-viewers, Ofcom research has revealed, with eight in 10 adults now watching multiple episodes of their favourite shows in a single sitting.

The findings are part of Ofcom’s annual Communications Market Report 2017, which reveals stark differences in how older and younger people watch television.

Eight in ten adults in the UK (79 per cent) – or 40 million people – use catch-up technology such as BBC iPlayer, or subscription services such as Netflix, to watch multiple episodes of a series in one sitting, wiping out the wait for next week’s instalment. One third (35 per cent) do so every week, and more than half (55 per cent) do it monthly.


Most binge viewers (70 per cent) find this type of viewing relaxing and enjoyable, and for others it’s an opportunity to discuss with friends (24 per cent). But around a third (32 per cent) of adults admit the temptation to watch another episode has cost them sleep and left them feeling tired.

Perhaps as a result, more than a third (35 per cent) of binge viewers, and almost half (47 per cent) of young adults aged 16-24 are trying to cut down their viewing in some way. This includes rationing their viewing (19 per cent), finding an alternative hobby (10 per cent), or even cancelling a TV subscription (4 per cent).

Binge viewing has such a strong allure that many viewers say they don’t intend to do it, but the pull of the next episode keeps them tuned in. More than seven in ten (74 per cent) say they sometimes watch more than they intend to, while 18 per cent say this always happens.

Bingeing is most popular among young people: more than half (53 per cent) of those aged 12-15 enjoy weekly watch-a-thons, compared to just 16 per cent of over-65s. For that older age group, more than half (59 per cent) prefer a traditional release of one episode per week.

The trend has been driven, in part, by the availability of faster home internet speeds, a rise in the number of connected TVs, and increased take-up of smartphones and tablets.


11 per cent of people aged 16-24 watch TV every day, compared to 0 per cent of people aged 65 per cent

Spoiler alert!

For many binge viewers, the desire to keep up with programmes is driven by fear of someone spoiling a programme’s ending (25 per cent). This can result in some (16 per cent) feeling under pressure to keep up with the viewing habits of family or friends.


And for some, the days of being tied to the TV schedule are fading, as UK viewers take advantage of being able to watch whenever, wherever they like. More than a third of people watch TV on the move – while on holiday (24 per cent), while commuting (16 per cent) or even in the pub (7 per cent).

Just over a half of people (51 per cent) watch TV in their bedroom, while others watch in the kitchen (16 per cent), the garden (9 per cent) or the bathroom (9 per cent).

Adults in the UK watch programmes/films on any service or device in the bedroom 51 per cent of the time

For many, watching TV is now a solo activity. Two in five adults say they watch TV alone every day, and almost nine in ten watch programmes alone at least once a week. One third of people say members of their household sit together, in the same room, watching different programmes on separate screens.


Despite this, nine in ten people watch live TV every week, and family viewing is still an integral part of family life. Three in ten (30 per cent) adults say their family still watches the same programmes or films together every day, while 70 per cent do so at least once a week. Nearly seven in ten (68 per cent) say watching TV can bring the whole family together for a shared viewing experience.


Ofcom’s research also reveals differences between the viewing habits of older and younger people, with the latter far more likely to take advantage of streaming services such as Amazon Prime.

More than seven in ten (76 per cent) young people aged 16-24 use a subscription streaming service, compared to less than two in ten (19 per cent) older people aged 65 and over.

68 per cent of adults in the UK agree that watching TV programmes/films brings the family together

However, BBC iPlayer is the most popular on-demand service with 63 per cent of adults saying they use it, followed by ITV Hub at 40 per cent and then YouTube at 38 per cent and Netflix at 31 per cent.

The public service broadcasters’ on-demand services, such as All 4 and ITV Hub, are popular with all age groups – 75 per cent of young adults aged 16-24s, and 59 per cent of over-65s, use these services.

63 per cent of adults in the UK use BBC iPlayer for watching TV programmes/films

Meanwhile, nearly six in ten (59 per cent) over-65s prefer a TV series to be released in the traditional manner, week by week, compared to 40 per cent and 36 per cent of young people aged 12-15 and 16-24 respectively.

Lindsey Fussell, Consumer Group Director at Ofcom, said: “Technology has revolutionised the way we watch TV. The days of waiting a week for the next episode are largely gone, with people finding it hard to resist watching multiple episodes around the house or on the move.

“But live television still has a special draw, and the power to bring the whole family together in a common experience.”

Sharenting – a modern dilemma

This year’s Communications Market Report also examines our online habits – looking particularly at the sharing of images, and wide differences in people’s approach to online privacy.


It reveals that more than half (56 per cent) of parents don’t indulge in ‘sharenting’, the common practice of sharing pictures of children on social media. Among those who do not share, the main reason (87 per cent) is a wish to keep their children’s lives private.

In contrast, 42 per cent of parents do share photos of their children, and half of these share photos at least once a month.

Of those parents who do share photos, just over half (52 per cent) say their children are happy for them to do so, and eight in ten (84 per cent) say they only share photos or videos their children would be happy with. A large majority (85 per cent) of these parents say they are careful about who can access the material.

Privacy know-how

Understanding the privacy implications of sharing images is a critical media literacy skill, and some people are aware that, once they post an image, they no longer have control over it.

Half of people understand that an uploaded photo is difficult to delete because it may have been shared or saved by someone else, but 17 per cent think it is easy to delete, and a further 16 per cent didn’t know.

Older people are far less confident about using privacy settings than younger internet users. The large majority (81 per cent) of 18-24s feel comfortable changing settings, but this falls to 37 per cent of over-55s.

70 per cent of people do not think that it is OK to share a photograph or video of other people without their permission. 36 per cent strongly agree that personal photographs should only be shared with friends and followers

Most people are aware of other people’s privacy, with seven in ten (70 per cent) saying they wouldn’t share photos of other people without their permission, and three-quarters saying that personal images should only be shared with friends or followers.

And six in ten (62 per cent) people who post photos of themselves (‘selfies’) say they have ‘untagged’ themselves from someone else’s photos or videos of them.

Younger people are more relaxed about sharing photos. Almost two in ten (18 per cent) people aged 18-24 don’t mind sharing with everyone, compared to just 5 per cent of people over 35.

The power of self-image

More than a third (34 per cent) of those aged 18-24 say the pictures they post and share most often are selfies – more so than landscapes/buildings (32 per cent) and holidays (31 per cent).

But among the wider population, holidays are still the most popular online snaps (24 per cent).

People who post/share photos online like to post/share holiday images the most (24 per cent)

Most selfie-takers (71 per cent) say it’s important to look their best in photos, and nearly half (47 per cent) feel pressure to look good online. This is more common among young people aged 18-24 (77 per cent), and significantly more so among women (82 per cent) than men (58 per cent).

Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) are cynical about the photos that other people post. Seven in ten say other people’s photos offer a ‘rose-tinted’ view of that person, or make their life appear more exciting than it is. This view is strikingly high among younger people – 85 per cent of 18-24s, and 88 per cent of 25-34s, agree with it, compared to only 65 per cent of over-55s.

Unfortunately, despite knowing that these photos might not be realistic, viewing these photos can have a negative impact. One third (32 per cent) say looking at other people’s photos makes them feel that their life doesn’t match up, rising to more than half (53 per cent) of 18-24s.

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