Importance of the UK’s internet economy revealed

11 December 2014

Note: this news release contained two numerical errors, which have been corrected below. The average amount UK consumers spent on online goods each year was £1,500, not £2,000 as originally stated. The equivalent number in Australia was £979 per head, not £1,356 as originally stated.

The UK’s internet economy is one of the strongest in the world, driven by record online advertising, spending and entertainment consumption, new figures from Ofcom reveal.

The country also leads the EU’s five biggest economies for broadband take-up, usage and superfast broadband coverage.

Ofcom finds that the UK has the highest e-commerce spending among the major nations surveyed in today’s research, with consumers paying almost £1500 on average online for goods each year. This was significantly higher than the next-highest valued market of Australia (£979 per head).

Two-fifths (40%) of advertising spending in the UK is online - more than any of the other countries analysed.

The UK also has the highest coverage of superfast broadband among Europe’s five leading economies (the ‘EU5’ - France, Germany, Italy Spain and the UK). Nearly eight in 10 UK homes are now able to access superfast broadband, which provides connection speeds of 30 Mbit/s or above.

Ofcom’s International Communications Market Report (PDF, 3.3 MB) (ICMR) 2014 examines take-up, availability, price and use of communications services across the world's major countries.

It is published today alongside the European Broadband Scorecard, which compares internet coverage, take-up, usage and choice between EU states. The reports underline the importance of the internet and broadband to UK consumers, businesses and the economy as a whole.

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “The internet has never been more important to the lives of people in this country, and the demand for better connections keeps rising.

“We are making significant progress in this area, as these country comparisons illustrate. However, we all acknowledge that there is more to do, and this will be the challenge for the coming years.”

Changes in social media

Not all aspects of the internet are retaining their appeal for the UK. The proportion of online adults in this country accessing social networks each week fell from 65% in September 2013 to 56% in October 2014. This was the steepest fall of any of the countries surveyed.

One factor behind the decline may be the rise of other social media which do not involve networks of connections, such as online video sites and instant messaging.

Social network use also fell in the USA, Japan and China. However, it is still increasing in some other countries - including Italy, which is now the leading country for social networking, with three quarters of Italians using such sites at least once a week.

Weekly access to social networks


Despite their decline in the UK, social networks remain the most popular internet activity for smartphone users. Among all those who access the internet on their phone in the UK, 64% use social networks, ahead of the next most popular activity of reading online news (44%).

TV viewing on the internet

Among its European counterparts, the UK is first for the use of internet-connected televisions: almost a quarter (22%) of UK consumers say they have a ‘smart’ TV, with the vast majority of these (84%) having connected it to the internet.

One third (32%) of the online population in the UK use the internet to watch TV programmes or films at least once a week, the highest of any European country surveyed.

However, individuals’ TV viewing declined more in the UK last year than in any other comparator country.

The average person in the UK watched 3 hours 52 minutes of TV per day in 2013. This was slightly above the average for the countries surveyed, but represented a fall of 3.7% (nine minutes per day) since 2012. This was the greatest decline of any country, ahead of Sweden and China where viewing fell by 3.0%.

This may be explained in part by the fact that UK viewing in 2012 was boosted by the Olympic and Paralympic Games and a wet summer. Signs of economic recovery in 2013 may also be a factor in the fall in daily viewing minutes, as people return to employment or spend more disposable income outside the home.

Digital radio nation

Today’s ICMR finds that the UK has the highest take-up of digital radio among the 18 surveyed countries - 41% of listeners have a digital set, ahead of second-placed Australia (23%).

Digital radio coverage is also higher in the UK (95%) than in any other surveyed country, as is the proportion of radio stations that are digital (31%). In total, there are 250 digital radio stations.



  1. Time periods and comparator countries vary, as Ofcom has chosen the most accurate available data. For details on each statistic, see the report links below.

    The International Communications Market Report (PDF, 3.3 MB) compares the UK with up to 18 comparable countries: Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

    The European Broadband Scorecard compares the UK within the EU5, and also the wider EU.