This year’s Ofcom Communications Market Report 2017 reveals that 40 million people watching multiple episodes of series back to back, creating ‘Box Set Britain’. There are also stark differences between the viewing habits of younger and older people.
Eight in ten adults in the UK (79%) – 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%) do so every week, and more than half (55%) do it monthly.
Most binge viewers (70%) find this type of viewing relaxing and enjoyable, and for others it’s an opportunity to discuss with friends (24%). But around a third (32%) 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%) of binge viewers, and almost half (47%) of young adults aged 16-24 are trying to cut down their viewing in some way. This includes rationing their viewing (19%), finding an alternative hobby (10%), or even cancelling a TV subscription (4%).
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%) say they sometimes watch more than they intend to, while 18% say this always happens.
Bingeing is most popular among young people: more than half (53%) of those aged 12-15 enjoy weekly watch-a-thons, compared to just 16% of over-65s. For that older age group, more than half (59%) 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.
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%) adults say their family still watches the same programmes or films together every day, while 70% do so at least once a week. Nearly seven in ten (68%) 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%) young people aged 16-24 use a subscription streaming service, compared to less than two in ten (19%) older people aged 65 and over.
However, BBC iPlayer is the most popular on-demand service with 63% of adults saying they use it, followed by ITV Hub at 40% and then YouTube at 38% and Netflix at 31%.
The public service broadcasters’ on-demand services, such as All 4 and ITV Hub, are popular with all age groups – 75% of young adults aged 16-24s, and 59% of over-65s, use these services.
Meanwhile, nearly six in ten (59%) over-65s prefer a TV series to be released in the traditional manner, week by week, compared to 40% and 36% 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.”
Other results from the report include: Broadcast TV generated revenues of £13.80bn last year. This was a £0.10bn (1%) rise on 2015 in real terms; The reach of broadcast TV remained high in 2016, with 91% of the TV population (individuals aged four and over) watching TV at least once in a typical week through 2016; However, there’s a widening gap between the viewing activities of the youngest and oldest audiences, with children aged four to -15, and adults 16-24 showing the largest declines in broadcast TV viewing in 2016, compared to a small increase in viewing among the over-65s.