A surge in screen time during lockdown saw people in Wales spend five and a half 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 Wales followed official health advice to stay home during April 2020, they kept themselves informed and entertained by spending 5 hours and 30 minutes each day on average – or nearly 40 hours a week – watching broadcast TV, online video content and gaming – a rise of nearly a quarter (24%) on last year.
The biggest factor in this increase was people in Wales spending significantly more time (+74%) watching video-on-demand services such as Netflix, Disney+, YouTube and other non-broadcast content – an hour and 40 minutes per day on average in April 2020.
However, broadcast TV viewing retained the largest share of time spent with the TV during peak lockdown – reaching an average of 3 hours and 38 minutes in April 2020 (+9% compared with 2019).
Ofcom's Media Nations: Wales 2020 report 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.
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.
When lockdown was announced towards the end of March, average daily viewing of broadcast television peaked at 3 hours 58 minutes in Wales, driven by demand for the latest news on the pandemic. This was the second highest level of viewing in the UK Nations, behind Scotland at 4 hours 26 minutes.
News programming on TV reached an average of 71.3% of the population in Wales each week in March 2020. The BBC proved to be the most popular source of news about the pandemic in Wales; more than seven in 10 online adults used its TV, radio and online services from the early weeks of lockdown through to mid-June. In comparison, almost six in 10 online adults in Wales (54%) used non-BBC broadcaster services - mainly ITV - during the first four weeks of lockdown, and this remained the case in the four weeks to mid-June (53%).
The demand for trusted news about the pandemic meant that the public service broadcasters – the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 – grew their combined monthly share of broadcast TV viewing to 59% in March 2020 (up from 57% in February). S4C also reported an increase in peak time share of broadcast viewing amongst Welsh speakers from 6.2% to 8.2% during the same period.
But the boost to the PSBs’ audience figures during lockdown was short-lived, as the pandemic interrupted production of soaps, major cultural and 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.
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 in Wales has held steady, at 92% higher than the year before.
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.
Eleanor Marks, Ofcom Wales Director, said: “The pandemic has shown public service broadcasting at its best, delivering trusted news, current affairs and content in both English and Welsh. Television and radio services provided by the three public service broadcasters in Wales have played an invaluable role in keeping audiences informed of the latest developments during the course of the pandemic.
“However, UK broadcasters face a tough advertising market, production challenges and financial uncertainty. They need to keep demonstrating that value in the face of intense competition from streaming services.”