Three in four adults agree with time of TV 'watershed'

23 August 2012

UK adults increasingly believe that the 9pm ‘watershed’ on TV is set at the right time, Ofcom research reveals.

The proportion of adults saying the timing of the watershed, which protects younger audiences, was ‘about right’ has risen from 64% in 2005 to over three quarters (77%) in 2011. Nearly one in ten (12%) thought the watershed was ‘too early’ in 2011, compared to 24% in 2005, while 9% thought the watershed was ‘too late’ in 2011 (6% in 2005).

Ninety-six per cent of adults are aware that broadcasters are allowed to show programming unsuitable for children only after a certain time, in line with the proportion in 2005 (94%). The research finds that viewers have high awareness of the watershed and suggests they place continuing value on it.

Overall, three quarters (74%) of respondents felt the current levels of TV regulation were ‘about right’. However, the growing availability and take-up of new technology is changing viewing habits, and is likely to raise longer term questions about the regulation of programming.

Ofcom’s annual survey of consumer attitudes towards broadcasting charts the changing public opinion towards media issues.

The latest survey also shows that the proportion of adults saying there is ‘too much’ sex, violence or swearing on TV has fallen by about a third since 2005.

In 2011, one in four (25%) adults felt there was ‘too much’ sex on TV, and just over one in three felt there was ‘too much’ violence (36%) and swearing (37%). This compares to 36% of adults saying there was too ‘too much’ sex on TV in 2005, with 56% for violence and 55% for swearing.

Last year, 19% of adults said they had been offended by something they had seen on TV in the past twelve months. In 2005, 32% said they had ever been offended by something on TV.

Standard of TV programmes

Over half (55%) of adults say that the standard of TV programmes has ‘stayed the same’ over the previous 12 months. This has risen from 47% in 2005. At the same time, the proportion of adults saying standards have ‘got worse’ has fallen from 40% in 2005, to under a third (31%) in 2011.

Meanwhile, the proportion saying standards have improved has remained relatively steady at just over one in ten (12% in 2011 compared to 10% in 2005).

In 2011, older respondents were more likely to feel that standards had got worse (46% among those aged 65+), while the youngest (16-34) were more likely to feel they had improved (18%).

The top two reasons for the standard of TV programmes getting worse were ‘more repeats’ (71%) and ‘lack of variety’ (43%), while the top two reasons for programmes getting better were a ‘wider range of programmes’ (59%) and ‘improved quality’ (46%).

News media

Ofcom’s annual survey finds that TV is the main source of UK and international news for over three-quarters (76%) of adults. Newspapers are the main source for 8% of adults, with 7% saying the internet and 5% radio. For local news, a small majority also say that TV is their main source (53%), with 15% selecting newspapers, 10% radio and 6% the internet.

Over half (59%) of adults feel TV is an ‘impartial’ news source – higher than any other media, despite a decline from 66% in 2010. Radio was seen as the second most impartial (52%), down from 57% in 2010. A quarter of adults (24%) say that newspapers are impartial, a similar proportion to 2010 (25%). Three in ten (29%) say broadcasters’ websites are impartial, a fifth (20%) for newspaper websites and 18% for other websites.

Intrusive media

A third (34%) of adults agree that broadcasters should be able to show programmes that scrutinise the lives of celebrities and politicians without their consents, whereas half (48%) disagree. For members of the general public in the media, a fifth (19%) say that consent is not needed, while over three-fifths (63%) disagree.

According to half (48%) of UK adults, newspapers are the most intrusive media into the lives of people in the public eye. A quarter (24%) say that TV is the most intrusive, while 21% feel that it is magazines.


Nine in ten adults (89%) said they were aware that TV programmes are regulated – up from 85% in 2010.

Four in ten (41%) of respondents believed that the internet was regulated. However, more than two in five (44%) felt current levels of internet regulation were ‘too little’, (increasing to 51% when asking parents).

While the majority of viewing remains to live linear TV, consumers are also watching audio-visual content on a range of devices, both live and increasingly on demand. Ofcom is seeking to understand the impact of those changes on existing models of broadcast regulation, including by conducting audience research to explore attitudes and expectations in a world where content can be accessed in such a broad range of ways.

Ofcom’s UK Audience attitudes to the Broadcast Media 2011 report is available here.

If parents want to complain about material they see or hear across the media, communications and retail industries, they can do so through the website ParentPort.



  1. Ofcom last year issued new guidance on the TV watershed, warning broadcasters to be more careful about programmes they show before 9pm that could be unsuitable for children. These guidelines are part of Ofcom’s ongoing work on the enforcement of the 9pm watershed, in line with its statutory duty to protect under-eighteens. Further details can be found here.
  2. There were some methodological changes to the survey in 2008, meaning that some trends may not be due to attitudinal changes alone.