UK’s internet use surges to record levels

24 June 2020

Adults in the UK are now spending more than a quarter of their waking day online with services such as TikTok and Zoom seeing unprecedented growth, according to our latest study into the nation’s online lives.

A graph showing daily time spent online by UK adults.

Our annual Online Nation report shows that in April 2020, during the height of the coronavirus lockdown, UK adults spent a daily average of four hours and two minutes online. This is up from just under three and a half hours in September last year.

With people looking for new ways to keep connected, informed, entertained and fit during the pandemic, video-sharing and video-calling services are surging in popularity.

TikTok, which allows users to create and share short dance, lip-sync, comedy and talent videos, reached 12.9 million UK adult visitors in April, up from just 5.4 million in January. Twitch, the popular live streaming platform for video gamers, saw visitors increase from 2.3 million to 4.2 million adults.

The proportion of people making video calls has also doubled during lockdown, with more than seven in 10 doing so at least weekly. Houseparty, the app which combines group video-calls with games and quizzes, grew from 175,000 adult visitors in January to 4 million in April. But the biggest growth was seen by Zoom, the virtual meeting platform, which grew from 659,000 users to reach 13 million users over the same period – a rise of almost 2,000%.

A nation of content creators

Sites and apps such as YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok, which allow people to create, upload and share videos online, have never been so popular.

A graph showing how many adults and children use video sharing platforms.

Our report reveals that nine in 10 adults, and almost all older children aged 8-15, with access to the internet used at least one of these in the last year, with many doing so several times a day. One third (32%) of online adults now spend more time viewing video-sharing services than broadcast television.

And we’re not only watching but creating and broadcasting our own content too. Two in five adults (40%) and 59% of older children who use video-sharing sites and apps now create and upload their own videos, driving an explosion in short-form, user-generated content.

Vlogging is also a money-making enterprise, with 17% of adults who create and upload videos receiving revenue or gifts in return. With some vloggers going on to achieve global celebrity status, the proportion of children under 13 who aspire to become a ‘YouTuber’ had increased by 19% by the end of 2019 compared to 2018. Boys in particular are more likely to consider it as a career.

A graph showing how many users of video-sharing services upload videos.

How the pandemic is changing communications

Our study shows that, before the pandemic, many people were moving away from more established forms of communication – particularly landline calls and SMS text messages – and adopting newer methods.

A graph showing that adult internet users are as likely to send a message by WhatsApp and they are to send an SMS.

In the 12 months to February 2020, more people were sending daily text messages using online messaging platforms (52%), such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, than using SMS (41%) or email (26%). Daily use of online voice calls (31%) was only slightly lower than mobile calls (38%).

The pandemic appears to have sped up the adoption of online services to keep in touch. More than seven in 10 people in the UK are now making video calls at least weekly, up from 35% pre-lockdown. This trend is particularly noticeable among older internet users; the proportion of online adults aged 65+ who make a least one video-call each week increased from 22% in February 2020 to 61% by May 2020.

Confident but cautious

For many adults and children, watching or creating content on video-sharing sites or apps is a positive experience. But 87% of adults – and 79% of 8 to 15 year olds – have concerns around children using these platforms. Bullying or trolling, harmful or age-inappropriate content and receiving private messages from strangers are among the top concerns.

Adults’ trust in sites to remove illegal, offensive and harmful material has grown by seven percentage points since last year, to 54%. Nevertheless, most adults (57%) continue to support greater regulation of video-sharing platforms (64% in 2019).

Ofcom is preparing to take on new duties for the regulation of UK-based video-sharing platforms. This summer, we will be publishing a call for evidence to inform our guidance on how platforms should protect users from harmful content.

Lockdown may leave a lasting digital legacy. The coronavirus has radically changed the way we live, work and communicate online, with millions of people using online video services for the first time.

As the way we communicate evolves and people broaden their online horizons, our role is to help ensure that people have a positive experience, and that they’re safe and protected.

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