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Broadcast TV audiences see sharpest fall since records began, says Ofcom

03 Aug 2023 3 minute read
Photo Luciana Guerra/PA Wire

The number of viewers tuning in to watch broadcast television each week has seen the sharpest fall since records began, according to a new Ofcom report.

As competition for the nation’s attention intensifies between public service broadcasters and streamers, the proportion of people watching traditional TV each week has declined from 83% in 2021 to 79% in 2022, Ofcom research said.

Similarly, the media watchdog said the average time spent watching broadcast television per person per day fell from two hours 59 minutes in 2021 to two hours 38 minutes the following year.

However, according to the Ofcom Media Nations 2023 report, public service broadcasters (PSB’s) still dominate the UK’s most-watched list with valued national TV moments.

Despite the continuing decline of traditional broadcast TV viewing, BBC One and ITV1 are still the top two first destinations for viewers when they turn on their TV, with Netflix placing third.

The research suggests viewers recognise that PSB channels deliver “broadcast events that bring the nation together for a shared viewing experience”, with England’s quarter-final in the Fifa World Cup, the State Funeral of the Queen and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in the top three spots on the 2022 UK’s most-watched programmes.

Similarly, PSB’s video-on-demand services BBC iPlayer and ITVX continued to grow.

Mass audiences

Another notable shift in the broadcast TV landscape according to the Ofcom Media Nations 2023 report, is a steep decline in the number of programmes attracting “mass audiences”.

The number of shows with over four million TV viewers has more than halved over the past eight years since 2022, which reflects fewer people tuning in to watch early and late evening TV news bulletins as well as a steady decline in viewing figures for the three most popular soaps, Coronation Street, EastEnders and Emmerdale, Ofcom said.

The research suggests just 48 programmes averaged more than four million TV viewers on streaming platforms in 2022, with “Netflix accounting for the vast majority”, the report said.

Ofcom’s research also suggests there is a significant decline in average broadcast TV viewing among the “core” older audiences aged 65+, as they become more likely to take up streaming services.

Yih-Choung Teh, group director of strategy and research at Ofcom, said: “Today’s viewers and listeners have an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet of broadcasting and online content to choose from, and there’s more competition for our attention than ever.

“Our traditional broadcasters are seeing steep declines in viewing to their scheduled, live programmes – including among typically loyal older audiences – and soaps and news programmes don’t have the mass audience pulling power they once had.

“But despite this, public service broadcasters are still unrivalled in bringing the nation together at important cultural and sporting moments, while their on-demand players are seeing positive growth as they digitalise their services to meet audience needs.”

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