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HR Apprentice. Ex Media Studies student at Swansea University. This blog is a collection of links, articles, academic reference and random thoughts.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Era of slumping in front of the TV is over | Media | The Guardian

Era of slumping in front of the TV is over | Media | The Guardian

The traditional picture of the British family spending its evenings slumped in front of the TV has changed dramatically, according to a new report from the watchdog Ofcom, published today. The box is still on, but the people on the sofa are talking on the phone, texting furiously or surfing the internet - increasingly using a laptop with a mobile broadband connection - while they keep one eye on the screen.

Despite doomsayers who believe the web will eventually kill off TV, viewing has not yet collapsed. The average Briton spent 218 minutes - or over three and a half hours - a day watching television last year, two minutes more than in 2006 but down on 224 minutes in 2002. In comparison, the average internet user spent 24 minutes a day online when at home last year, up from just six minutes in 2002.

But what has changed is that the TV no longer has the viewer's undivided attention, according to Ofcom's annual Communications Market report. Three quarters of 20- to 34-year-olds regularly use their mobile when in front of the TV, while more than a third of 25- to 44-year-olds often check the internet at the same time as watching a programme.

Television is finding itself increasingly usurped among the young. While TV remains the "media activity" that British people above the age of 20 say they would miss most, 16- to 19-year-olds say it is a mobile phone they couldn't live without.

The report shows the UK's continuing love affair with the mobile. More people send a text every day than access the internet and there are more phones in circulation than there are people in the UK. Nearly 60 billion text messages were sent last year - up 36% on 2006 - and mobile phone users talk on their phone for an average of 10 minutes a day, double the usage recorded in 2002.

The mobile phone and other distractions mean young people are watching fewer TV shows, with 16- to 24-year-olds glued to the set for about 150 minutes a day in 2007, 10 minutes less than five years ago and more than an hour less than the UK average. People over 65, in contrast, spend five hours a day watching TV.

Instead, younger people are spending more of their time online but with download and streaming services such as the BBC's iPlayer reporting record demand, many are merely choosing to watch their favourite TV programmes when they want by getting content from the web. Nearly a third of all internet users watched video clips and webcasts last year with the number of UK users of YouTube hitting 9 million this April alone - up 50% on a year before.

Throwing off the shackles of the TV schedulers is not just the ambition of people with an internet connection. Almost a quarter of UK households - 6 million - had a digital video recorder by the end of last year, up 53% on 2006. DVRs allow people to store their favourite shows for viewing later. Their success is bad news for advertisers who use commercial television to get in front of a mass audience. Of those with a digital recorder, 88% always skip past the ads, according to Ofcom.

But when they do watch "traditional" television, the taste of 16- to 24-year-olds is remarkably similar to that of those over 65. Both like entertainment and contemporary music shows while 16- to 24-year- olds watch slightly more soap operas and factual programmes than pensioners. The big difference between the age groups, according to the report, is in the area of news and weather programming.

Among pensioners, 14% watch TV news and weather programmes, compared to just 7% of 16- to 24-year-olds.

The Ofcom report shows that online advertising hit £2.8bn last year, up 40%, and eclipsing spending on the traditional terrestrial channels ITV1, Channel 4, S4C and Five for the first time. Given how much more time people spend watching TV than using the internet the figures look incongruous, but the Ofcom report does not take into account the amount of time British consumers spend online at work.

In fact, take-up of residential internet services is slowing as the digital divide between rich and poor becomes ever more obvious. Most households that have a computer are already online with PC penetration running at 72% in the UK and internet penetration close behind at 67%. Broadband take-up - at 58% of UK households - has slowed not least because younger consumers such as students are opting to buy mobile phone "dongles" that give internet access and are often cheaper than a lengthy broadband contract. Over 2 million Britons now use mobile internet services, with sales of dongles nearly doubling between February and June this year to over 130,000 a month.

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