Full stream ahead: Brits spend a third of 2020 watching TV and video

05 August 2021

Adults in the UK sought solace in screens and streaming in 2020, spending a third of their time watching TV and online video, according to Ofcom’s annual study of the nation’s media habits.

With people across the UK under some form of lockdown restrictions for most of last year, more than 2,000 hours of it were spent watching TV and online video. That’s a daily average of five hours and 40 minutes 47 minutes more than in 2019.

The change was mainly driven by people spending almost twice as much time watching subscription streaming services (one hour and five minutes per day) such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.

All UK adults

Image shows a doughnut chart showing the average minutes of viewing spent  per person per day across different platforms in 2020. The total viewing per person per day across 2020 was 5 hours and 40 minutes of which the majority (162 minutes) was spent watching live TV.

16-34s

Image shows a doughnut chart showing the average minutes of viewing spent  per person per day for those aged 16-34, across different platforms in 2020. The total viewing per person per day across 2020 was 5 hours and 16 minutes.

Stream supreme

UK subscriptions to streaming services climbed to 31 million last year, up from 20 million in 2019. This meant that, by September 2020, three in every five UK homes were signed up, compared to half of homes a year earlier.

By April 2021, streaming service providers were offering UK viewers a combined total of over 115,000 hours of content. Amazon Prime video’s catalogue was the largest at over 41,000 hours, followed by Netflix at around 38,000. The combined content catalogues of All 4, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and My5 were narrowly short of this, at 37,000 hours.

Hours of UK produced TV content available on demand in April 2020. 26,322 on bbc iplayer, itv hub, channel 4 and my five. Followed by 15318 on Netflix, prime video, Disney plus, now, apple tv plus and Discovery plus.

Twenty-nine of the 30 most-watched titles on subscription services in the first quarter of 2021 were on Netflix. Four of these were UK-produced – Bridgerton, The Dig, Behind her Eyes and Fate: The Wynx Saga. This shows that home-grown, original programmes continue to be a significant draw for British audiences.

Bridgerton was a particular success, with 8.2 million homes watching it by the end of March 2021, making it Netflix’s biggest title that quarter. Netflix subscribers also sought escapism during the winter lockdown by spending almost an hour per day watching comedy programmes – nearly twice as much as a year earlier.

In Q1 2021, an average uk netflix household spend almost an hour a day watching comedy content. That's 78% higher than the 32 minutes per day in Q1 2020.

Broadcast TV loses further viewing share

The average time spent watching traditional broadcast TV each day in 2020 was 3 hours 12 minutes – nine minutes higher than in 2019. But this increase was entirely driven by people aged 45 and over.

Younger age groups continued to watch less broadcast TV in 2020. People aged 16 to 24, for example, only spent an hour and 17 minutes watching broadcast content – down four minutes from 2019.

Live sport, drama and news continued to pull in viewers to broadcast TV in early 2021. The most-watched programme so far this year is the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy, which achieved a combined audience of over 22 million UK viewers on BBC One and ITV. The Euro 2020 semi-final between England and Denmark had the highest audience on a single channel, with 18.3 million UK viewers on ITV. BBC One’s Line of Duty series finale (16.4 million UK viewers) and ITV’s Oprah Winfrey interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (14.9 million UK viewers) came in third and fourth.

TV and online video have proved an important antidote to lockdown life, with people spending a third of their waking hours last year glued to screens for news and entertainment.

The pandemic undoubtedly turbo-charged viewing to streaming services, with three in five UK homes now signed up. But with subscriber growth slowing into 2021 and lockdown restrictions easing, the challenge for the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Disney will be to ensure a healthy pipeline of content and keep customers signed up.

Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s Group Director, Strategy and Research