Northern Ireland’s telly and online habits revealed

03 August 2017

  • More people watching TV whenever and wherever they like
  • But live TV remains the most important source of news for people in Northern Ireland
  • Euros dominate the most popular TV programmes

Northern Ireland has become a nation of TV binge viewers, Ofcom research reveals, with eight in ten (83%) adults ever watching multiple episodes of their favourite shows in a single sitting.

The findings are part of Ofcom’s annual Communications Market Report 2017, which reveals  an increasingly interconnected Northern Ireland, where the internet is now available and accessed through our TV as well as smartphones and tablets.

More than three-quarters of adults (76%) in Northern Ireland now own a smartphone, and nearly six in ten (58%) say their smartphone is their most important device for going online, compared to just over four in ten in the UK as a whole (42%). Ofcom’s research also reveals a rise in tablet ownership, with three in five households (62%) now having one.

How we watch TV programmes is also changing; one-third (33%) of households in Northern Ireland now have a smart TV. That’s lower than the wider UK average but almost double what it was last year. Four out of five homes (79%) have a fixed-line broadband connection.

On-demand viewing

While watching live TV remains important, people are increasingly turning to catch-up and on-demand streaming services.

More than eight in ten (85%) people say they enjoy the ability to watch what they want, when they want. Two-thirds (65%) of people are drawn to watching programmes on-demand, simply to avoid adverts.

Services from the public service broadcasters are the most popular ways of watching on-demand and streaming programmes among adults in Northern Ireland: 65% use the BBC iPlayer and 44% use the ITV Hub. But, significant numbers are also using YouTube for watching programmes and films (27%), while 28% now use Netflix and 16% use Amazon video.

65% of adults in Northern Ireland use BBC iPlayer for watching TV programmes/films, compared to 63% across the UK

The growing popularity of these services means watching multiple episodes back-to-back – or ‘binge watching’ – is now hugely popular, with 83% of people in Northern Ireland saying they have done this, and a third (32%) doing so every week.

Most binge-viewers (60%) find this type of viewing relaxing and enjoyable, and for others it’s an opportunity to discuss with friends (19%). For some, this type of viewing has been driven by a fear of someone spoiling a programme’s ending (31%).

Binge-viewing has such a strong allure that many viewers say they don’t intend to do it, but the pull of the next episode keeps them tuned in. For nearly four in ten (39%), the temptation to watch another episode has cost them sleep and left them feeling tired.

Perhaps as a result, one in three (36%) binge viewers are trying to cut down their TV viewing in some way. These include rationing their viewing (22%) or finding an alternative hobby (8%). For 2%, the solution was to cancel their subscription service.

Tech' take-up

Ofcom’s report also looks at people’s take-up and usage of technology across a range of sectors, from TV and radio through to post, telecoms and the internet.

People in Northern Ireland now spend more than 20 hours every week online, and younger people are far more likely to be online than the over-65s. People in households with children are also more likely to have an internet connection than those without children (90% vs. 72%).

Despite the rise in online activity, traditional media remains popular. People spend

more time watching live TV (an average of 3 hours 36 minutes a day) than engaging in any other communications activity.

Pay-TV services from Sky, Virgin Media, and BT are also popular, with 64% of households in Northern Ireland having paid-for channels delivered by satellite, cable, broadband or Freeview top-up services. However, this is down 10 percentage points on the previous year.

Ofcom’s research also shows that people continue to turn to TV first to keep-up with the latest news. More than seven in ten adults (72%) in Northern Ireland say TV is the most important source of news in Northern Ireland, followed by radio (12%) and websites or apps (7%).

Television comprises 72% of mass media sources for UK and World news in Northern Ireland

Most watched TV

Programmes with a local flavour are popular with viewers in Northern Ireland.

Four of the ten most-watched programmes in 2016 were from the European football championships in France, with Northern Ireland games against Wales and Germany appearing at second and third on the list. The penultimate episode of the ITV drama, The Secret, was the most watched programme in Northern Ireland last year.

Listening to the radio continues to play an important part in our lives, and nine in ten people in Northern Ireland tune in every week. On average, we listen to more than 20 hours of radio every week.

People in Northern Ireland are more likely to tune into local BBC and commercial stations than listeners elsewhere. These stations account for 60% of listening, compared to 36% for the UK as a whole.

People in Northern Ireland spend 20.8 hours average listening to the radio weekly, compared to 21.4 hours across the UK

Although digital radio ownership is lower in Northern Ireland than in other UK nations, ownership has increased and more than a third of households now have one (37%, compared to 57% across the UK). Listening to digital (either through a radio, online, or on the TV) accounts for a third of people’s total listening, with the remainder (70%) tuning in on FM or AM.

Jonathan Rose, Ofcom Northern Ireland Director, said: “Technology has revolutionised the way we watch TV. The days of waiting a week for the next episode are gone, with people finding it hard to resist watching multiple episodes around the house or on the move.

“But live-TV still plays a critical role as a provider of news. Despite the increasing popularity of websites and apps, it is still the most important source of news for people in Northern Ireland.”


  1. Ofcom’s Communications Market Report provides an overview of communications services across Northern Ireland and monitors key trends in the availability and take-up of digital services across the nation.
  2. Research included a face-to-face survey of 3,743 respondents aged 16+ in the UK, with 493 interviews conducted in Northern Ireland. Quotas were set and weighting applied to ensure that the sample was representative of the population of Northern Ireland in terms of age, gender, socio-economic group and geographic location. Fieldwork took place in January and February 2017.
  3. The survey sample in Northern Ireland has error margins of approximately +/- 3-6% at the 95% confidence level. In urban and rural areas; survey error margins are approximately +/- 4-7%.
  4. In addition to the survey data, this report refers to information from a range of other sources, including data provided to Ofcom by stakeholders.
  5. Under the Communications Act 2003 (the Act), Ofcom is required to research markets and to remain at the forefront of technological understanding.  Ofcom is also required under section 358 of the Act to publish an annual factual and statistical report.
  6. Most watched programmes in Northern Ireland in 2016:

ITV's The Secret was the most watched programme in Northern Ireland in 2016

Other Communications Market Report highlights


  • On average, people in Northern Ireland spend 3 hrs 36 minutes per day watching television.
  • Four in ten adults in Northern Ireland watch TV programmes online (live, catch-up, on-demand, and online video channels).
  • Compared to the UK overall, penetration of satellite TV (53%) is higher in Northern Ireland, while households are less likely than in the UK overall to have cable TV (6%).
  • UTV’s early-evening news bulletin, UTV Live, attracted a 47.2% average share in Northern Ireland between 6pm and 6.30pm during 2016, more than double Channel 3’s UK average for early-evening news bulletins in the same slot.
  • Around one in three respondents in Northern Ireland with a TV claim to watch RTÉ One (29%) or RTÉ2 (28%) at least monthly. This compares to around one in five who claimed to watch TV3 and TG4 at least monthly.


  • 84% of households in Northern Ireland have a landline phone (UK-82%). 94% of adults have a mobile phone, 76% have a smartphone.
  • 68% of adults in Northern Ireland use their mobile phones to access the internet.
  • Mobile phones users in rural Northern Ireland are less satisfied with their mobile phone reception than those in urban areas. Rural users were more likely to say they were ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ dissatisfied (18% vs 4%).


  • Eighty-nine per cent of adults in Northern Ireland now listen to radio, the highest reach in three years. On average, people spend 20.8 hours listening to the radio in an average week, an increase of 42 minutes compared to a year earlier.
  • 60% of radio listening hours in Northern Ireland are accounted for by local services, an increase of 4pp since 2014. This is more than one-and-a-half times greater than the UK average for listening to either local BBC or local commercial radio stations (36%) and the highest of any UK nation.
  • The BBC spends £9.40 per head of population on radio (Radio Ulster and Foyle) in Northern Ireland. This is higher than the UK average (£2.79) and the highest in the UK.
  • The nations’ BBC services in Northern Ireland (Radio Ulster and Foyle) have a 21% share of listening hours, three times higher than the UK average. However, the UK-wide BBC network stations have the lowest reach in Northern Ireland of all the nations (21% in Northern Ireland, vs. 45% across the UK).


  • 79% of homes in Northern Ireland have a fixed-line broadband connection.
  • In 2017, six in ten households in Northern Ireland own a tablet, in line with the UK average. That compares with just 9% back in 2012.
  • A majority of internet users (58%) in Northern Ireland say a smartphone is their most important device for going online.
  • Two-thirds (66%) of adults in Northern Ireland shop online; slightly fewer (60%) use social networking sites; just over half (53%) bank online; and 40% go online to look up health information.


  • Invitations, greetings cards and postcards are the most popular item sent by people in Northern Ireland. They post an average of 2.7 such items per month, more than smaller parcels (one), larger parcels (0.8), and formal letters (one).
  • People receive more post than they send. On average, people in Northern Ireland receive 1.8 formal letters and 1.3 bills, invoices or statements in the previous week.
  • Six in ten adults are using more email instead of post, compared to two years ago.
  • Overall satisfaction with Royal Mail is 88% in Northern Ireland. This is higher than satisfaction overall in the UK (83%).