Northern Ireland becomes a nation of streamers

07 August 2019

  • Around half of homes in Northern Ireland now take Netflix, Amazon, Now TV or Disney Life
  • Traditional broadcast TV viewing down by more than an hour per day since 2010
  • But traditional viewing still makes up the bulk of our screen time, and remains the “go to” place for news

Around half of homes in Northern Ireland now subscribe to TV streaming services, according to a major Ofcom report revealing rapid shifts in our viewing habits.

The number of households in Northern Ireland signed up to at least one of the main UK subscription streaming platforms  – Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV and Disney Life – increased from 262,000 (36%) in 2018 to 340,000 (46%) in 2019. As with the rest of the UK, Netflix is the most popular with over 41% of homes in Northern Ireland now signed up.

While traditional TV still accounts for most TV time in Northern Ireland (82%) and remains the most popular place for people to keep up with the latest news, viewing continued to decline.

In 2018, viewers spent an average of three hours five minutes per day watching broadcast television - down by 14 minutes since 2017 (-6.9%) and over an hour less (-26%) than in 2010.

The decline is even steeper among children and younger viewers in Northern Ireland. In 2018, youngsters aged 4 to 15 watched one hour and 13 minutes of broadcast TV each day, down from almost three hours in 2010 (-59%).

However, viewing to other services on the TV set - such as streaming or gaming increased by five minutes to an average of 42 minutes per person per day in 2018.

The findings are from Ofcom’s Media Nations: Northern Ireland 2019 report (PDF, 5.1 MB), a comprehensive study of major trends in television, radio and audio, published today.

TV is still the “go to” place for news

Despite the rise in online viewing, television remains the most-used platform for news by people in Northern Ireland. Television channels make up five of the top ten most-used news sources in 2019, with UTV and BBC One the most popular overall.

Social media sites are also highly used for news in Northern Ireland; over a third (35%) of people now say they use Facebook for news, while Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram also appear in the top 20 most-used news sources.

Top 20 sources of news in general in Northern Ireland: 2019

Chart showing the top 20 sources of news for Northern Ireland

Small Screen: Big Debate

Today’s findings underpin Ofcom’s recently-launched national debate on the future of public service broadcasting – Small Screen: Small screen: Big debate logoBig Debate.

This will involve broadcasters, production companies, governments, Parliaments, industry bodies, viewers’ groups and national and regional representatives on the wider questions around the future of public service media.

Ofcom is playing a central role in driving the debate, drawing on a range of views, evidence and research. By the end of the year, we will publish our assessment of the state of public service broadcasting, identifying areas of risk and potential opportunities.

Jonathan Rose, Director of Ofcom Northern Ireland, said: “The way we watch TV is changing faster than ever before.  In the space of seven years, streaming services have grown from nothing to reach around half of Northern Ireland homes.  But traditional broadcasters, who produce brilliant Northern Ireland and UK programmes, still have a vital role to play.  We want to sustain that content for future generations, so we’re leading a nationwide debate on the future of public service broadcasting.”

Other findings from the report include:

  • The second episode of the first series of Derry Girls on Channel 4 was the most-watched broadcast programme on TV sets in Northern Ireland in 2018. This episode achieved an average audience of 608,000 and a share of 70% of those watching TV at that time (see notes to editors).
  • BBC One and BBC Two had lower viewing shares in Northern Ireland than in any other UK nation. Conversely, UTV’s and Channel 4’s viewing shares were higher in Northern Ireland than in the other nations.
  • Ofcom research shows that 82% of households in Northern Ireland have a fixed internet connection in 2019, while more than two-thirds (67%) of households own some form of connected TV.
  • Some 82% of adults in Northern Ireland now own a smartphone, while 64% of households have a tablet device.
  • The use of smart speakers is increasing in the home. Just over a fifth (22%) of Northern Ireland households own a smart speaker – up 7pp since last year.
  • Adults in Northern Ireland are more likely than those in any other nation to listen to the radio, with 93% tuning in each week. Local radio accounts for 60% of listening in Northern Ireland, far higher than to counterpart stations in Scotland (41%), Wales (31%) and England (31%).


  1. Top 20 most-watched programmes in Northern Ireland: 2018Table of the top 20 most watched programmes in Northern Ireland for 2018

Source: BARB. BBC Ulster area, all individuals (4+). The TVR (television rating) is the measure of the popularity of a programme, daypart, commercial break or advertisement by comparing its audience to the population as a whole. One TVR is numerically equivalent to 1% of a target audience.