Consumers spend almost half of their waking hours using media and communications

19 August 2010

Consumers are spending almost half (45 per cent) of their waking hours watching TV, using their mobiles and other communications devices, new Ofcom research revealed today.

They are now sending four times as many texts per day than in 2004, spending almost a quarter of their time on the internet on social networking sites and spending 3 hours and 45 minutes per day watching TV.

They are also using several types of media at the same time - with the average person cramming 8 hours 48 minutes of media into just over seven hours during the average day.

The growing popularity of smartphones - and the changing way we use our mobiles - is increasing our overall use of communications, and helping us do much more simultaneously.  This is being particularly driven by the under 25s. However, the over 55s are catching up, with half now having broadband at home - the fastest growing age group.

But while we are doing more, it is costing us less. For the fifth year in a row, spending on communications services has decreased.  Ofcom's annual Communications Market Report into the UK's TV, radio, telecoms and internet industries shows that real household monthly spend on communication services fell 9.4 per cent over the past five years to £91.24, as more people choose to buy their services in discounted bundles.

The report also shows that traditional media is far from dead, with TV retaining a central part in our lives, particularly in the evening.

Peter Phillips, Ofcom Partner, Strategy & Market Developments, said: "For the first time we can see just how central media and communications are to our lives - on average we use them for nearly half our waking hours."

"Increasingly, mobile devices - especially smartphones - are used for multi-media, but live evening TV still remains the main entertainment event of the day."

"Younger people have shown the biggest changes in how we use media - particularly using different media at the same time.  But the divide between younger and older people's use of technology is starting to narrow as more older people are getting online and finding that things like email are very important to them."

"Consumers are using communications services more - phone calls, texting and the internet. Yet they are paying less despite getting more, partly through buying in bundles."


Media multi-tasking - where, for example, someone makes a phone call while surfing the internet - now accounts for one fifth (20 per cent) of all media consumed throughout the day and the younger the person, the more this happens.

Among 16-24s, almost a third (29 per cent) of their media activity is simultaneous, compared to just over one eighth (12 per cent) for people aged over 55.

UK consumers are now generally using a single device - typically their mobile phone - for more than one type of media and communications use.

Increased smartphone use

There has been a surge in smartphone ownership, with growth particularly strong over the last year, up by 81 per cent from 7.2 million users in May 2009 to 12.8 million in May 2010. In June 2010, over a quarter of people in the UK (26.5 per cent) said they had a smartphone, more than double the number two years previously.

In the first quarter of 2010 nearly a quarter of adults (23 per cent) accessed content or sent emails on their mobile phones, up from 20 per cent in the first quarter of 2009. Among 15-24s this rises to 45 per cent.

Surfing the internet via mobile phones is the fastest growing mobile media activity with 1 million new users during the first quarter of 2010 (taking the total to 13.5 million, compared to 9 million in the first quarter of 2009).

Facebook on mobiles

Facebook was the most popular mobile internet site in terms of time people spend on it, accounting for almost half (45 per cent) of total time spent online on mobiles in December 2009.  And a fifth (20 per cent) of time 16-24s spend social networking is on a mobile.

UK consumers sent a record number of texts (104 billion) in 2009 - equivalent to 1700 for every person in the UK (up 25 per cent on 2008 and 290 per cent on 2004).

Rise in 24 month contracts

In the second quarter of 2010, 63 per cent of new mobile contracts were for 24 months, compared to just 3 per cent in Q2 2008, making smartphones more affordable for consumers as costs are spread over a longer period of time.


Although media multi-tasking is widespread, half of people consume only one type of media in the evening.

This peak-time evening media use is driven by people watching scheduled live television through their TV set, an activity mainly undertaken on its own rather than with other media.

The time people spend watching TV remains stable alongside internet growth with the average person watching 3 hours and 45 minutes of TV per day.

Despite the growing choice in technology and services available, watching TV remains the activity that most adults would miss the most.  Compared to 2007, a growing number of 16-24s (8 percentage points) and over 55s (7 percentage points) say that watching TV is the activity they would miss the most.

Catch-up TV usage grows

It's not just scheduled live television which continues to be popular.  Ofcom's consumer research from the first quarter of 2010 shows that almost a third (31 per cent) of households with internet access used it to watch online catch-up TV - up 8 percentage points over the year.

Nearly a quarter of people (22 per cent) say they have bought a HD-ready TV set in the last 12 months and sales of HD ready TV sets have now passed 24 million in the UK.  Five million households have now also signed up to HD services through pay TV, freesat and Freeview services.  Although the continuing demand for TVs could be partly explained by falling prices and digital switchover, it also suggests that consumers are as attached to their TVs as they ever were and are hungry for more channels and better picture quality.

It also highlights the potential for fast growth of other services through TV sets such as internet, or of new technologies such as 3DTV.


Younger people

Ofcom's research found that 16-24s are the most efficient users of communications services as they squeeze 9.5 hours of media consumption into just over 6.5 hours actual time, spending the largest part of their time on computers and mobiles.

Over two thirds (67 per cent) of the time that younger people spend on the internet on a computer is spent communicating with other people, comprised of 29 per cent social networking, 19 per cent email and 19 per cent instant messaging.

Twenty per cent of 16-24s have accessed the internet through a games console and just a quarter of the time they spend on their mobiles is on voice calls.

Older people

There is also a growing use of technology among older people, although they typically focus on a narrower range of services.

In 2009 growth in internet take-up appears to have been driven by older age groups.  For the first time half (50 per cent) of over 55s have broadband at home and they consider emails to be the most important media activity with 36 per cent of over 55s using email each day and 47 per cent using email at least once a week.

Social networking grows across all ages groups

Younger people are more likely to access social networking sites, with 61 per cent of 15-34s claiming to do so, compared to 40 per cent of all adults aged 16+ (10 per cent higher than 2008). But it is by no means exclusively a young person’s activity. Nearly half (48 per cent) of 35-54s claim to use social networking sites, as do 20 per cent of 55-64s - the latter showing a 7 percentage point rise over the past year.

Social networking accounts for nearly a quarter of all time spent on the internet (23 per cent compared to 9 per cent in 2007). This has been driven by the rapid growth of Facebook which grew by 31 per cent. The average Facebook user spent 6 and 30 minutes on the site during May 2010.


Men spend nearly an hour more per day using media than women - an average of 7 hours 33 minutes per day compared with 6 hours 38 minutes.

Men (25 per cent) are also more likely than women (21 per cent) to use their phones to access the internet although over the past year the gap between the proportions of men and women who use their mobiles for web access has halved from 8 percentage points to 4 percentage points.

Women use their phones more in their own time than at work (71 per cent landline calls, 85 per cent mobile calls), compared to men (54 per cent landline calls, 63 per cent mobile calls).

Women said that they would miss their mobile phone (15 per cent) and landline (8 per cent) more than men (12 per cent mobile phones, 2 per cent landlines) and, while women rate social networking on a computer as a more important activity to them than men, they spend about the same amount of time doing it daily (18 minutes compared with 20 minutes).


Households are consuming more communications and media: more voice calls, more texts, more data and more TV viewing.  Yet communications spend now accounts for a lower proportion of total household expenditure (4.4 per cent in 2009 compared to 4.6 per cent in 2008) and overall household spend on telecoms services has fallen by over 17 per cent in real terms in the last five years.

Rise in 'bundled' communications services

The trend to buy communications services in bundles has also grown significantly over past five years.  Half of all UK households (50 per cent) now buy two or more services from a single provider compared to 29 per cent in 2005.  Seventy per cent of people with a bundle said that the main reason for taking one was because it was cheaper.

Better deals in the recession

The recession also led to a change in consumer opinion about the deals operators offer. Eighty-eight per cent of consumers believed that at least one operator was offering better deals than they were 12 months ago. Only 13 per cent thought that no providers were offering better deals compared to 25 per cent a year ago.

Consumers are also now more likely to use online shopping to search for better deals.  Just over half (53 per cent) of respondents with broadband access agreed they were more likely to use the internet to shop, while 61 per cent say they now use price comparison websites more frequently.


Ofcom has also today published separate Communications Market Reports for the UK’s Nations and Regions. The reports compare and measure take-up of communications services in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the English regions.

One of the themes across the UK is the common experience of people who live in rural locations. They are less likely to have access to super-fast broadband, a 3G phone signal, and to a choice of suppliers through their local fixed telephone exchange. The research shows that the average broadband speeds delivered to premises in rural locations are typically lower than in urban areas; that fixed-line take-up is often higher; and that households are less likely in rural areas to take communications services in bundles.


Telecoms and Networks

  • 2009 saw a large increase in data use. Total data volumes over the UK's internet infrastructure increased by 68 per cent and data volumes over mobile networks increase by 240 per cent.
  • Voice calls per person increased by an average of 1.6 per cent a year since 2004, to 11 hours and 12 minutes a month in 2009.
  • Time spent on fixed internet has increased by over two-thirds since 2008 with adults spending 14 hours and 12 minutes per month on the internet in 2010 compared with 8 hours and 18 minutes per month in 2008.
  • Broadband speeds increased - but so has the gap between advertised and actual speeds. Average actual speeds increasing from 4.1Mbit/s in April 2009 to 5.2Mbit/s in May 2010. However, this represented just 46 per cent of the average 'up to' advertised speed. Nearly half the population have access to superfast broadband, but fewer than 0.5 per cent of households had subscribed by the end of 2009.  Research in June 2009 found that the average UK mobile broadband speed was just under 1Mbit/s.
  • Younger people switch to mobile broadband. Take-up of mobile broadband increased by 8 percentage points among those aged 15 to 24 and by 3 percentage points among 35-54 year olds. This suggests that younger age groups may be switching from fixed to mobile broadband (and driving overall mobile broadband growth by doing so), while increasing fixed broadband take-up among older consumers has offset the resulting fall in take-up among younger people.
  • Total retail telecoms revenue fell for the first time. Operator-reported retail telecoms revenue declined by 2.6 per cent in 2009 to £30.4 billion. This was driven partly by the economic downturn plus the first year-on-year fall in mobile voice revenues (down 3.5 per cent) due to an increasing amount of bundled voice minutes and text messages included in line rental charges and an increase in SIM-only tariffs. This was combined with a small fall in fixed-line internet an acceleration in the decline in fixed-voice revenues.

Internet and other web-based content

  • Facebook wasn't the only site to see rapid growth in take-up over the past year. Business social networking site LinkedIn's user base grew by 96 per cent, and Twitter's increased by 56 per cent (this does not include traffic from third-party applications). Growth from both of these sites was from a much lower base than that of Facebook.
  • Online advertising grew through the downturn to reach £3.5 billion in 2009. The 6 per cent increase on 2008 was driven by growth in search (8 per cent) and display (11 per cent) advertising, but other classified fell (-5 per cent) as the economic downturn hit the property, automotive and recruitment sectors.

TV and Audio-visual

  • Time-shifted TV popularity continues. Since 2006, the proportion of time-shifted television viewing more than tripled, from 1.7 per cent to 5.9 per cent - a major factor in this trend has been the growing use of digital video recorders.
  • Number of TV channels decrease. For the first time since 2004, the number of TV channels broadcasting in the UK decreased year on year (from 495 to 490). The closure of Setanta Sports and its UK channels contributed to this decline. There were 379 in 2004.
  • Falling UK TV revenues. UK TV revenue as a whole contracted for the first time since 2003, down by 0.4 per cent from 2008 to £11.1bn. Net TV advertising revenue also declined by 9.6 per cent to £3.1 billion which is the biggest fall since 2003.

Radio and Audio

  • Radio reaches new high. Despite less time being spent on radio listening, the number of people listening reached a new high of 90.6 per cent (46.5 million adults) on a weekly basis by the first quarter of 2010.  This is an increase of almost 0.75 million listeners on the first quarter of 2009 (90.2 per cent of adults).
  • Time spent listening to the radio decreased by 5.3 per cent in the five years to 2009, and by 0.4 per cent year on year. Total listening hours to all BBC Radio stations were down by 1.2 per cent during 2009 and down 2.2 per cent in five years . By contrast, all commercial radio listener hours were stable in the year but down 10.1 per cent over five years.
  • Younger adults (16-24s) spend twice as much time as older age groups listening to audio content through hand-held devices. Among 16-24s, almost a quarter (24 per cent) of all audio consumption time was undertaken using a hand held-device, compared to 11 per cent on average across all adults.
  • TotalUK radio industry funding fell by 4 per cent to £1.1billion in 2009. This followed a fall in commercial revenues of 11.5 per cent to £432 million; while Ofcom estimates that the BBC increased its radio spend by 1.6 per cent to £660 million (accounting for a 60 per cent share of all radio income).



  1. The research into consumers' use of media and communications involved a survey of 1138 adults aged 16+.
  2. Ofcom is required under Section 358 of the Communications Act 2003 to publish an annual factual and statistical report.  Ofcom is also required to undertake and make public our consumer research, as set out in Sections 14 and 15 of the Act.