UK Adults' Media Literacy Report

17 May 2010

Executive summary

Media literacy enables people to have the skills, knowledge and understanding they need to make full use of the opportunities presented both by traditional and by new communications services. Media literacy also helps people to manage content and communications, and protect themselves and their families from the potential risks associated with using these services.

This report is designed to give an accessible overview of media literacy among UK adults aged 16 and over (-1-). The purpose of this report is to support people working in this area to develop and promote media literacy among these groups.

This report is the third full report since our survey began in 2005. It is therefore able to show trends over time for many of the questions asked. Due to different survey periods and focus, change over time is highlighted against either 2007 or 2005.

Take-up and media preferences

UK adults have high levels of household take-up of digital television (89%) and the internet (71%), and nine in ten (91%) use mobile phones (-2-). Since 2007, household take-up of digital television and the internet and the use of mobile phones have increased. Three in four adults said they used the internet at home or elsewhere in 2009 (73%), compared to two-thirds (63%) in 2007 and three-fifths (59%) in 2005. There has also been an increase in digital radio listeners and gaming (-3-) since 2007.

Although there has been an above-average increase in household take-up of the internet since 2007 among those in DE socio-economic groups (48%), take-up in this group and among those aged 55-64 (60%) and those aged 65 and over (33%) is still low compared to all UK adults (71%).

The growth in household take-up of the internet since the 2007 survey has meant that the profile of internet users has changed, with an increase in the number in older age groups although those aged 65 and over still only account for less than one in ten of all internet users (8%).

Three in ten adults (31%) say they use any type of alternative device (whether a mobile phone / smartphone, games console / player or portable media player) to go online. Use of alternative devices to go online is higher among the under-45s than among those aged 45 and over. Few adults (2%) only use an alternative device to go online and do not use a PC or laptop at home, although those in DE socio-economic groups are more likely to do so compared to all UK adults (5% vs. 2%).

Since 2007, there has been no change in the claimed weekly volume of use of the internet in any location among users generally (12.2 vs. 12.1 hours). In 2009, the internet is used in any location for longer per week by younger adults (aged 16-24), males and those in ABC1 socio-economic groups.

Three in ten adults do not have the internet at home (29%) and seven in ten of these (70%) say they do not intend to get it within the next year or so. Most give reasons relating to a lack of interest (72%), as in previous years of this research. However this reason is less likely to be mentioned now than in 2007. Reasons relating to cost (31%) are more likely to be mentioned than in 2007. Not having a PC / laptop is also given as a reason by 23% of those not intending to get the internet at home.

When asked which media activity they would miss the most, while half of all UK adults (50%) say they would miss watching television the most, compared to 2007 more adults now say they would miss using the internet(15% vs. 12%). Younger adults, aged 16-24 (36%) and those in AB socio-economic groups (42%), are less likely to say that they would most miss watching television compared to the UK as a whole.

Communication preferences have changed since 2005 for example, adults are now more likely to prefer to check their bank balance online (30% vs. 22%) and less likely to prefer to check their bank balance by making a home / landline phone call (12% vs. 18%). Booking a holiday online / by email is now as popular a preference as booking a holiday in person (36%).

Interest and confidence across media

Among adults who have digital television at home, those who use a mobile phone and those who have access to the internet at home via a PC / laptop, a minority say they are interested in, but not confident using, certain functions available through these devices. Among internet users, the areas in which people are most likely to lack confidence are: installing filtering software (25%) and installing security features (23%). Across each of the functions, older users, females and those in DE socio-economic groups are more likely to lack confidence.

Among non-users of the internet, three in ten (30%) are interested in any of the interactive functions that we asked about; with interest more likely among younger adults and those in ABC1 socio-economic groups. Proxy use of the internet, through a non-user asking someone else to use the internet for them, occurs among two in ten non-users and is more likely among younger adults, females and those in ABC1 socio-economic groups. Four in ten non-users of the internet can see the benefits of the internet; agreeing that it makes life easier or helps save time.

Using the internet appears to have some correlation with perceptions of employability; users are more likely than non-users to feel that they have the right skills to get a new job. This is not related simply to age or socio-economic group, as the difference in perception seen at an overall level is also evident among internet users and non-users within both younger and older adults, males and females and those in ABC1 and C2DE socio-economic groups.

Since 2007, internet users are more likely to say they are very confident across a number of aspects of using the internet, and six in ten describe themselves as very confident internet users. It remains the case that users are less confident in judging whether a website is truthful than they are in searching online or creating content online.

Using the internet

As in previous years, communication is the most commonly-mentioned activity carried out on a regular basis (at least once a week) by internet users (78%). Compared to 2007, however, fewer internet users are finding information online for their work / studies (36% vs. 48%). There has been a considerable increase in regular use of the internet for social networking (35% vs. 19%) and for entertainment (34% vs. 22%).

Twice as many internet users now have a social networking site profile than in 2007 (44% vs. 22%) with more than three in four of those aged 16-24 (77%) stating that they have a social networking profile. The growth in social networking site profiles since 2007, however, is greatest among 25-34s, females and those in DE socio-economic groups. Compared to 2007, those with a social networking site profile are more likely to use these sites every day (41% vs. 30%), to have a profile which can be seen only by their friends or family (80% vs. 48%), and to use the sites to communicate with their friends and family (78% vs. 69%).

One in three UK adults who use the internet (32%) say they watch online or download TV programmes or films. Almost all of these are doing so through UK TV broadcasters websites (29%) (such as BBC iPlayer), with a much smaller proportion watching online or downloading TV programmes or movies from other websites (11%).

Just under half of all internet users say that using the internet has increased their contact with friends (49%) or family (47%) who live further away, and around one quarter say their contact with friends (24%) who live nearby has increased.

Just over eight in ten (81%) internet users say they have saved money by using the internet for certain tasks that we asked about; most commonly buying something online rather than in the shops (65%), comparing prices online (63%) or booking travel online (51%). Half of internet users say they have made significant savings by comparing prices online or buying something online rather than in the shops (48%).

Understanding, security and concerns

UK adults knowledge of the main sources of funding for BBC and commercial TV programmes, radio stations and websites has not changed since 2007; with a majority aware of the main source of funding for TV programmes and for radio stations and a minority aware for either BBC website or commercial search engine funding. Compared to all UK adults, there are consistently lower levels of awareness of the licence fee as the main source of funding for the BBC among adults aged 16-24, females, and those in DE socio-economic groups.

Compared to 2007, UK adults are more likely to believe that content is regulated across each of radio (67% vs. 58%), the internet (37% vs. 26%), mobile phones (23% vs. 20%) and gaming (36% vs. 29%). No change is evident for TV, however (80% vs. 79%).

More UK adults believe that file sharing through downloading shared copies of copyright music and films should be illegal (47%) than believe it should be legal (29%), and 24% are unsure. Young people aged 16-24 are more likely to say that such activity should be legal (45%).

Internet users are less willing to provide personal information online than was the case in 2007. For example, the proportion of internet users who say they would be happy to provide their email address when they are online has declined since 2007 (44% vs. 49%). Around half (51%) of internet users say they make some kind of judgement based on professional signs such as padlocks before entering personal information on websites, with little change from 2007.

Around half of those who use search engines (54%) make some kind of critical evaluation of the results from these websites, but around one quarter of younger users (23%) and those in C2DE socio-economic groups (25%) trust that the websites returned by search engines will have accurate and unbiased information, compared to one in five (20%) of all search engine users.

Around half of all adults consider information found on television (52%) and radio (50%) to be reliable and accurate, compared to three in ten internet users who consider information found on the internet to be reliable and accurate (31%). A majority of users say that they tend to trust the news output from TV (54%), radio (66%) and news websites (58%), with TV news less likely to be trusted than the news output from radio or news websites.

The proportion of adult users of each media mentioning any concerns for each of television, radio, the internet, mobile phones and gaming has decreased since 2007. For TV, internet and mobile phones, this takes overall concerns among users to lower levels than those found in 2005. Three in five internet users have concerns about what is on the internet (61% vs. 73% in 2007 and 70% in 2005). Four in ten viewers have concerns about what is on television (39%). Concern about what is on the internet mostly relates to offensive or illegal content. Concerns about mobile phones (26%), gaming (25%) and radio (11%) are at a lower level. Internet users are more likely than non-users to have concerns about what is on the internet (61% vs. 40%), but gaming users and non-users do not differ in this respect (25% vs. 26%).


Just over two in ten adults say they have experience of formal learning about digital technology, which is lower than in 2007 (21% vs. 27%). Experience of formal learning mostly relates to using the internet, and is less likely among those aged 65 and over compared to adults as a whole (16% vs. 21%). There has also been a decline since 2007 in the proportion of adults who would be interested in learning more about digital technology (25% vs. 31%). Interest in learning more mostly relates to using the internet.

As in 2007, when asked about their preferred way of learning about digital technology, just under half of adults nominate learning from friends or family (48%) or reading the manual / instructions (45%). Despite an increase in the number of those who prefer to go to a class to learn about digital technology (9% vs. 6%), few adults prefer this more formal method of learning. Older adults are more likely to prefer to learn from friends and family, while younger adults are more likely to prefer to learn through trial and error.


1.- The report comprises two waves of data; one wave of data from spring 2009 and one wave from autumn 2009. The data across both these waves have been combined to give an overall picture for the year, with this report following on from the interim report which was published in October 2009.

2.-It should be noted that these take-up measures are from two waves of fieldwork conducted in 2009. For Q1 2010 uptake figures please refer to Ofcom Digital Participation Consortium Tech Tracker data at Statistical Release Calendar.

3.- Gaming refers to playing games on any of the following devices, hand-held games console, games console connected to a television, on a computer / laptop, on a mobile phone / smartphone /, on a portable media player, on a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), or on an MP3 player.