Ofcom research on audience attitudes to TV and radio

19 May 2015

Ofcom has today published research into UK audience attitudes to content on TV and radio.

This covers what people find offensive on TV and radio, their awareness of and attitudes towards regulation and their understanding of advertising and product placement.

The report also includes research on consumers’ access to and views on internet ‘connected devices’, which are used to watch services like the BBC iPlayer, 4oD, ITV Player, YouTube and Netflix.

This supports Ofcom in its role in protecting viewers, especially children. It helps gauge current attitudes and inform any future advice to government on how best to protect people who use these services.

Research findings

Today’s research, which is not directly comparable to last year’s report1, shows households surveyed owned two TV sets on average. Over four in ten (44%) adults had used an internet connected TV - most via set-top boxes such as TiVo or Sky - in the last 12 months. Some 34% had watched catch-up TV services via connected TVs or set-top boxes.

Nearly half (49%) of adult TV viewers felt the quality of TV programmes had stayed the same in the past year, three in ten (30%) felt they had got worse, and around 16% said TV had improved.

Among those who thought programmes had got worse, the top reasons were repeats (57%), a lack of variety (43%), a general lack of quality (32%) and too many reality shows (30%). Among those who said programmes had improved, the top reasons were a wider range of shows (50%), improved quality (48%), more entertaining shows (37%) and better dramas (33%).

Offensive material on TV

Most people (79%) had not been offended by anything on TV in the past year. However, one in five had found something offensive, rising to a third (33%) for people aged 65 and over. Those aged between 16 and 24 were least likely to be offended (9% compared with 33% of over 65s).

Of those who had been offended, bad language (44%), violence (41%) and sexual content (41%) were the top concerns. Adults below 45 years old were more likely to say they had been offended by some type of discrimination (29% compared with 19% of over-45s).

On average, about half of all people thought current levels of sex (57%), violence (47%) and swearing (52%) on TV were acceptable. Four in ten felt there was too much violence (43%) and swearing (40%), while nearly three in ten (28%) said there was too much sex.

Attitudes differed by age: younger adults were more likely to feel there is an acceptable amount of violence, swearing and sex, while older adults tended to feel there is too much.

High awareness of regulation

The vast majority of adult TV viewers (90%) knew about the 9pm watershed, with over half (57%) saying about 9pm was the right time while around a quarter (27%) said the watershed should be later.

The report found a clear understanding about what broadcast content is regulated, with over eight in ten (82%) adults aware that TV is regulated. Most adults felt the current levels of TV and radio regulation were about right (61%), or did not have an opinion (18% for TV and 33% for radio).

The research showed that 14% of adult TV viewers could identify the ‘P’ symbol, which is designed to let viewers know the channel, or the programme-maker, has been paid to include products in that programme.

Protecting viewers

Ofcom has a duty to protect viewers from harmful and offensive material on TV and radio, as well as ‘TV like’ content on internet connected devices2. When broadcasters break the rules, Ofcom takes robust enforcement action and has issued guidance to broadcasters on how they should enforce the watershed.

The majority of viewing today is live on the TV and many of the programmes delivered over the internet to connected devices in the UK were first aired on TV; because of this, they are subject to Ofcom’s rules.

However, people now watch programmes in a variety of ways, and on different devices, which poses challenges for parents and regulators.

This is why Ofcom is working with government, other regulators and industry to bring about a common framework for media standards. This will help ensure people are protected and understand what is regulated and the protections in place, by delivering a consistent approach to protecting audiences across TV, on-demand and radio.

Next steps

This research will inform Ofcom’s rules to help ensure TV and radio meets the expectations of audiences, and will be used to update future guidance issued to broadcasters about how to deal with offensive content on TV. It will also help inform decisions when investigating TV programmes shown before, or soon after, the watershed.

Ofcom’s report, UK audience attitudes to the broadcast media, can be found here.



  1. Following an extensive review, changes were made to the questionnaire used for the Media Tracker study in 2014. These included new questions and also amendments to the wording and / or the order of questions included in previous studies. These changes in approach in 2014 mean no significance testing has been conducted to compare 2014 data to 2013 data. However, significance testing has been conducted within the 2014 data to make comparisons across different demographic groups. The fieldwork for this research was conducted for Ofcom by the research agency Saville Rossiter-Base, using face-to-face interviews conducted in respondents’ homes. The interviewing was conducted across three equal waves (May/June, August and November 2014) to counter potential seasonality issues. Over the three waves of fieldwork, a sample of 2,074 adults aged 16+ were interviewed and then weighted to be representative of the UK adult population. The data presented here are based on the weighted sample. The research supports Ofcom’s regulatory goal to research markets constantly and to remain at the forefront of technological understanding.
  2. Ofcom and the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) - the co-regulator for online content - have a duty to regulate ‘TV like’ on-demand services; although this does not extend to content on the wider internet, such as YouTube.