The UK’s TV viewing habits


We know that the technology has come on in leaps and bounds over the decades, but what about our TV viewing habits? For example, are we still watching TV on a traditional TV set, or have other gadgets stolen our attention? Have Brits grown into a nation of TV-holics, or have other pastimes and distractions driven us away from our telly box? We had a dig to figure out exactly how our TV consumption has changed over the years.

© BBC

Do we still watch TV on a TV set?

Rewind a couple of decades and it would sound like a silly question to ask somebody what they watch their TV on. On the TV set, of course! But today, the question could give rise to any number of answers, such as on a tablet, smartphone or laptop. So, how do Brits watch TV?

84% of Brits still prefer to watch TV on a TV set. However, two in five 16-24-year-olds say they’d rather watch on a non-TV device, with one in 10 opting for their smartphone, despite the small screen size. In fact, regardless of age, one in five people say they prefer to watch news and current affairs content on their smartphone.

What platform do brits prefer to watch TV on?

Despite this, in 2020, Ofcom estimates that 94% of households in the UK have at least one TV set and nearly a quarter (23%) report having at least three. But while this sounds like a lot, this is actually less than 10 years ago, when approximately 97% of households had a TV and 26% at least three.

This said, TVs on the market today do far more than simply broadcast entertainment. Compared with five years ago, four times the number of households have a Smart TV (48%) with features such as a voice assistant and apps. This has led to a 16% difference in people watching SVOD (subscription video on demand) services via their TV, rather than other internet-connected devices, compared with 2017. What’s more 35% of households have a UHDTV/4K TV today, enjoying a display like we’ve never seen before.

TV device ownership in the UK

Do we watch more TV now?

We’ve learnt that less households own a TV set today than 10 years ago, but how does this translate to the amount of TV we watch? There’s certainly plenty of content out there to be consumed, after all.

It turns out Brits are watching, on average, an hour less live TV a day now (3 hours) than 10 years ago (4 hours). This only accounts for live broadcasting though. SVOD services such as Netflix, Amazon and Now TV make up a large additional chunk of our viewing time. In fact, it’s estimated those with at least one subscription spend an average of one hour 11 minutes a day on the respective platform(s).

To build a broader picture, on average, Brits watch live TV five times a week, SVODs four times and TV-on-demand (Sky, Virgin, etc.) three times. Broken down by regions, Wales watch the most live TV, averaging 5.5 times a week, the North-East are the most into TV-on-demand, averaging 3.7 times a week and the East Midlands watch the most SVODs, averaging 4.25 times a week. It turns out we really are a nation of telly lovers!

Average minutes of TV watched per person per day

Who do we watch TV with? And where?

With so much viewing going on, who are we watching it with? Well, for one in five Brits, the answer is no one. They prefer to keep TV a solo activity. For the majority, however, TV time is time spent with a partner (42%) or family (22%). This said, 6% less Brits describe watching TV as “family time” now than 10 years ago, and 5% more women than men watch TV with the kids.

Brits TV habits

When it comes to where we’re watching TV, it turns out we’re a traditional bunch with the majority choosing the living room (66%), but there has been a slight increase (3% difference) in people choosing the bedroom (15%) compared to 10 years ago (12%). This is perhaps thanks to the increased accessibility of TV on portable devices. Watching TV in bed is a habit more women than men seem to have adopted (16% vs. 14%), however, men are twice as likely to watch TV in the bathroom or in public (perhaps due to live sports) than women.

Are subscription video on demand (SVOD) services the new broadcast TV?

Step aside live TV, because subscription video on demand (SVOD) services are having a serious moment. And by moment, we mean a revolutionary impact on the way people watch TV today and probably forever.

The popularity of these subscription services has grown rapidly over the last 5-10 years. While trendsetter Netflix remains a frontrunner in the market, others such as Amazon Prime Video, Now TV and Disney+ are also vying for the public’s attention – and money. With all this competition, the services need to ensure they’re providing irresistibly entertaining shows to draw in audience. And it could be why we’re now twice as likely to describe TV as “bingeworthy” compared to 10 years ago, with so much content available at our fingertips.

What platform do brits prefer to watch TV on?

Over 15 million households are now subscribed to at least one SVOD (triple the number five years ago) and over a quarter of Brits (27%) claim they prefer to watch an SVOD service over live TV or TV-on-demand (Sky, Virgin, etc.). 24-35-year olds are the most likely to say this, with 50% of this age group admitting they watch an SVOD every day. In contrast, two in five people over 55 say they never watch SVOD services, preferring to stick to traditional live broadcasting.

How did lockdown impact our TV habits?

Having suddenly found ourselves confined to our homes amidst a nationwide lockdown, it was inevitable that many would seek solace in TV. What else were we supposed to do, after all?

In 2020 so far, people have been watching SVODs for 37 minutes longer a day than in 2019. Plus, in April 2020 – peak lockdown in the UK – the British public watched over half an hour more of live broadcast TV a day than they did at the same time last year. As lockdown measures eased, broadcast TV viewing did dip slightly, but by the end of June it was still 11% higher than in the same week in 2019. This broke an otherwise downward trend in the amount of live TV consumed by the average Brit in recent years.

How did lockdown impact our TV habits?

And it wasn’t just the amount of TV that changed in lockdown. The time of day people watch TV was impacted too. During lockdown, Brits have confessed to being more likely to watch TV in the middle of the afternoon (8% more than pre-lockdown) and more likely to watch TV late into the night (4% more than pre-lockdown). That’s what happens when a series is so gripping!

Hours of TV watched per week