Lockdown leads to surge in TV screen time and streaming in Northern Ireland

05 August 2020

  • People spend nearly five hours a day in front of the TV during height of lockdown
  • Time on non-broadcaster content like YouTube and Netflix jumps during pandemic
  • Nearly entire online population followed news updates during early weeks of pandemic

A surge in screen time during lockdown saw people in Northern Ireland spend nearly five hours a day watching TV and online video services on the TV set, Ofcom has found in its annual study of the nation’s media habits.

As people across Northern Ireland followed official health advice to stay home during April 2020, they kept themselves informed and entertained by spending 4 hours and 53 minutes each day on average – or 34 hours a week – watching broadcast TV, online video content and gaming[1] – nearly a third (31%) more than last year.[2]

In April 2020, people in Northern Ireland spent an average of 4 hours and 53 minutes viewing across all devices.

The lockdown saw people in Northern Ireland spending significantly more time (+78%) watching video-on-demand services such as Netflix, Disney+, YouTube and other non-broadcast content – an hour and 18 minutes per day on average in April 2020.[3]

However, broadcast TV viewing retained the largest share of daily time spent with the TV during lockdown – reaching an average of 3 hours and 27 minutes in April 2020 (+19% compared with 2019).[4]

Growth in paid-for streaming services

Ofcom's Media Nations: Northern Ireland 2020 report[5] finds that an estimated 12 million UK adults signed up to a new video streaming service during lockdown, of whom around 3 million had never subscribed to one before.[6]

Disney+, which launched on the first day of the UK’s lockdown, made an immediate impact. The new service attracted 16% of online adults by early July across the UK, surpassing NOW TV (10%) to become the third most-popular subscription streaming service behind Netflix (45%) and Amazon Prime Video (39%).

Among children aged 3-11, Disney+ was used in a third of homes (32%) by June – overtaking BBC iPlayer which saw use among these children fall from 26% to 22% during the spring.

Traditional broadcasters hit record share… driven by demand for news

When lockdown was announced towards the end of March, average daily viewing of broadcast television peaked at 3 hours 42 minutes in Northern Ireland, driven by demand for the latest news on the pandemic.

News programming on TV reached an average of 74.1% of the population in Northern Ireland each week in March 2020. TV and radio services from traditional broadcasters like the BBC and UTV were the most-used sources of news for people in Northern Ireland, some way ahead of social media.

More than eight in ten (83%) online respondents in Northern Ireland used BBC services during the first four weeks of the lockdown period. Three quarters (74%) used non-BBC broadcaster services.

However, the use of non-BBC broadcasters, mainly UTV, was higher in Northern Ireland than in the other devolved nations. The demand for trusted news about the pandemic meant that the public service broadcasters – the BBC, UTV, Channel 4, Channel 5 – grew their combined monthly share of broadcast TV viewing to 60% in March 2020 (up from 58% in February).

…but PSBs face ongoing financial and production challenges

But the boost to the PSBs’ audience figures during lockdown was short-lived, as the pandemic interrupted production of soaps, major sporting events and entertainment shows. By June 2020 their combined monthly share of broadcast TV viewing across the UK fell to 55%, its lowest level since August 2019.

The outlook for commercial public service broadcasters PSBs is especially tough, as they manage cost-cutting measures amid financial uncertainty. Their cumulative revenues declined by 3.5% in 2019 to £2.2bn, and TV advertising revenues are expected to fall 17-19% in 2020.

Loyalty after lockdown

While viewing to traditional broadcast television declined from its early lockdown peak, the uplift in viewing of video-on-demand and other non-broadcast content has held steady, at more than double the year before (106%).[6]

And our adoption of streaming services appears likely to continue after lockdown. The overwhelming majority of online adults across the UK signed up to Netflix (96%), Amazon Prime Video (91%) and Disney+ (84%) said they plan to keep their subscriptions in the months ahead.

Similarly, more than half of UK adults (55%) say that they will continue to spend the same amount of time watching streamed content in future as they did during lockdown.

Jonathan Rose, Ofcom Northern Ireland Director, said: “Lockdown led to a huge rise in viewing to TV, streaming and online video.

“The public looked to broadcasters to keep them updated on news about the pandemic and entertained as the lockdown kicked in. Viewing figures for April especially underlined what a key role all broadcasters played during that time.

“But traditional broadcasters face a tough advertising market, production challenges and financial uncertainty. So they need to keep demonstrating that value in the face of intense competition from streaming services.”


  1. Figure includes live viewing, time-shifted viewing up to 28 days after the original broadcast, other broadcaster content such as boxsets on BVOD services that haven’t had a linear broadcast and ‘unmatched content’ like subscription video-on-demand services, YouTube, gaming, viewing DVDs/box sets/archives, time-shifted viewing beyond 28 days, apps on smart TVs and navigation around EPG guides where there is no in-picture broadcast content on the TV set.
  2. People in Northern Ireland spent an average of 3 hours 44 minutes per day watching TV, online video and other content on the main TV in the home in 2019 – an 1 hours and 9 minutes less than in April 2020.
  3. People in Northern Ireland spent 44 minutes watching ‘unmatched’ content in 2019 – 34 minutes less than in April 2020.
  4. Broadcast viewing consolidated to seven days after broadcast.
  5. This is Ofcom’s third annual Media Nations: Northern Ireland report, a reference publication for industry, policy makers, academics and consumers. It reviews key trends in the TV and online video sectors, as well as the radio and other audio sectors. Accompanying this narrative report is an interactive report that includes an extensive range of data. There are also separate reports for the UK (PDF, 2.6 MB), Scotland (PDF, 3.0 MB) and Wales (PDF, 3.7 MB).
  6. Before lockdown, 56% of households in Northern Ireland already subscribed to subscription-on-demand services, with nearly half of homes having access to Netflix (49%).
  7. People in Northern Ireland spent 72 minutes watching ‘unmatched’ content in week 26 of the year (week beginning 22 June 2020) compared to 35 minutes in the same week of 2019.