In Brief

Lockdown and chill: 12m Brits sign up for streaming services

New Ofcom study reveals that viewers spent 40% of waking hours watching TV at height of coronavirus pandemic

Millions of bored Britons signed up for video streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ during the UK’s nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, newly released figures show. 

And viewers spent an average 40% of their waking hours watching television at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, in April, according to Ofcom’s Media Nations 2020 report.

The media watchdog says that Brits “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”.   

Streaming surge

A total of 12 million people signed up to a new subscription streaming service during the lockdown, including three million who were new to streaming.

After launching on 24 March, a day after the nation was ordered to stay at home, Disney+ had “attracted 16% of online adults by early July”, says Ofcom. That successful start saw Disney+ move ahead of NOW TV (10%) to become the third-most popular subscription streaming service.

The top spot was claimed by Netflix (45%) - maker of hit shows including The Crown (pictured) - followed by Amazon Prime Video (39%).

Streaming viewers tuned into the various services for on average of one hour 11 minutes per day during April - 37 minutes more than in 2019. Among the 16-34 age group, screen time increased to two hours per day. 

Richard Broughton, an analyst at market research firm Ampere Analysis, told The Guardian that “it has been almost perfect conditions for all the major streaming services”. 

“Under lockdown, there has been a lack of alternative entertainment options, where you couldn’t see friends and cinemas, restaurants, pubs and clubs were closed,” he said. “And with traditional TV, there has been a relatively limited variety of shows, people were rapidly running out of things to watch.”

Demand for news

As the full extent of the coronavirus crisis became apparent in March, the UK’s public service broadcasters - the BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 - achieved their highest combined monthly share of viewers in more than six years, at 59%. 

The BBC was the most popular source of news and information about Covid-19, with eight in ten adults turning to Auntie for updates during the first week of lockdown.

The lockdown also saw growth for the various broadcasters’ separate video on-demand services. BBC iPlayer recorded 570 million programme requests in May 2020 - a 72% increase from May last year. 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.

Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s strategy and research group director, said: “Lockdown led to a huge rise in TV viewing and video streaming. The pandemic showed public service broadcasting at its best, delivering trusted news and UK content that viewers really value.

“But UK broadcasters face a tough advertising market, production challenges and financial uncertainty. So they need to keep demonstrating that value in the face of intense competition from streaming services.”

Future picture 

As of the end of June, viewer numbers for video streaming services and other non-broadcast content were 71% higher year-on-year. By contrast, viewing numbers for the traditional TV broadcasters fell by 44 minutes, to three hours two minutes per day.  

In more good news for streaming services, Ofcom reports that adults who are signed up for Netflix (96%), Amazon Prime (91%) and Disney+ (84%) say that they plan to keep their subscriptions in the months ahead. 

The media watchdog adds that “more than half say they will continue to spend the same amount of time watching streamed content in future as they did during lockdown.”


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