Younger viewers shun traditional TV channels as 90% opt for streaming services

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: David Burton/Alamy</span>
Photograph: David Burton/Alamy

Watching traditional TV channels has almost stopped among younger viewers, with 90% of 18- to 24-year-olds heading straight to their favourite streaming service, according to a report by the media regulator Ofcom.

The report, which found that Netflix is the most common destination for younger viewers to seek out content, highlights a rapidly widening generation gap in viewing habits.

Viewers aged between 16 and 24 spend just 53 minutes a day on average watching traditional broadcast TV – a fall of two-thirds over the last decade – seven times less than those aged 65 and over. Those aged 65+ still spend about a third of their waking day, almost six hours, watching broadcast TV – slightly higher than a decade ago.

Ofcom says that the change in younger adults’ viewing habits reflected the “soaring popularity of US-based, on-demand streaming services”, which began with the launch of Netflix in the UK in 2012 and has grown to include competitors including Disney+ and Amazon’s Prime Video.

“The streaming revolution is stretching the TV generation gap, creating a stark divide in the viewing habits of younger and older people,” said Ian Macrae, director of market intelligence at Ofcom.

The US streaming services have also increased their grip over the viewing attention of three- to 12-year-olds. In the first quarter Netflix overtook YouTube, with its YouTube Kids service, to become the most popular service among children in the UK. And Disney+ saw a surge in usage among children to overtake the BBC’s iPlayer, which is now the fourth most popular service.

However, the Ofcom research echoes recent reports of a slowdown in growth to subscription video on demand services (SVOD), after more than a decade of almost uninterrupted growth, as the cost of living crisis causes households to scrutinise their outgoings on entertainment and telecoms services.

The report estimates that around a fifth of UK homes, 5.2m, have the three most popular services – Netflix, Prime Video and Disney+ – at a cost of about £300 annually.

The number of households subscribing to at least one SVOD service fell by 350,000 in the second quarter to 19.2m.

Broadcasters such as the BBC and ITV remain the home of must-watch live events with more than 10 million viewers tuning in to watch the Lionesses triumph at the Women’s Euro 2022 final and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee show.

However, while broadcasters’ own streaming services, such as iPlayer, ITV Hub and Channel 4’s All 4, increased viewing year-on-year they are failing to make up for the overall decline of the size and time audiences spend watching traditional TV.

Top five Netflix titles in the UK, first quarter 2022

  1. Stay Close – 6.9m Netflix accounts, 61.9m total streams

  2. The Tinder Swindler (movie) – 6.6m, 8.8m

  3. The Adam Project (movie) – 6.1m, 7.9m

  4. Inventing Anna – 5.3m, 41.4m

  5. After Life – 5.1m, 42m

Source: Digital-i UK

Top five TV programmes in the UK, first half of 2022

  1. The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – BBC One, 13.2m viewers

  2. The Tourist – BBC One, 11.4m

  3. Trigger Point – ITV, 10.9m

  4. The Thief, his Wife and the Canoe – ITV, 10.1m

  5. The Responder – BBC One, 9.5m

Source: BARB, includes TV and online viewing