Media Literacy Audit: Report on media literacy amongst older people

03 April 2006

Executive Summary

The promotion of media literacy is a new responsibility placed on Ofcom arising from Section 11 of the Communications Act 2003.

Ofcom’s definition of media literacy, developed after formal consultation with stakeholders, is ‘the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts’. Media literacy gives people the confidence and knowledge to get the most out of the many media platforms that now exist.

Ofcom has carried out an audit of media literacy across the UK and in March 2006 published its first report, which details the audit’s findings across all UK adults. That report, Ofcom’s Media Literacy Audit: report on adult media literacy, is available at Media Literacy.

This report focuses on adults aged 65 and over across the UK. Its purpose is to provide stakeholders with a source of information about older people’s levels of media literacy. It also examines the extent to which older people differ from the UK population as a whole in this respect.

We recognise that the population aged 65 and over is diverse. Therefore, we have examined where possible a range of sub-groups: those on a low income, those living alone, those living with others, those with a disability and those without, those aged 65 to 74 and those aged over 75.

The audit as a whole looks at how UK adults and children access, understand and create communications, with Ofcom’s particular focus being on electronic communications. In this context, our definition of access is much wider than availability or take-up of the platforms. Rather, it focuses upon interest, awareness, usage and competence relating to each platform. Understanding relates to how content (such as television and radio programmes, internet websites, or mobile video and text services) is created, funded and regulated.

Some of the elements of this audit - such as attitudes towards the provision of news, or knowledge of content regulation – apply to traditional analogue television and radio as well as their newer digital counterparts. But for the most part, this audit focuses on the four main digital media platforms – not only digital television and digital radio, but also the internet and mobile phones - as these are the ones where there is most divergence between different groups within the UK in terms of understanding, take-up and usage.

Our main findings are:

Across all platforms

  • Nearly half of those surveyed aged 65 and over have digital TV (44%) and almost half have a mobile phone (49%). One in five has the internet at home, and nearly one quarter say they have access to digital radio. All these figures are significantly lower than for UK adults overall, although there is less of a difference for digital TV than for the other platforms.
  • Nearly three quarters of those aged 65 and over have a VCR, and nearly 70% have a CD player. One in five has a digital camera.
  • In comparison to all UK adults, older people watch more TV, and listen in equal amounts to the radio. Mobile phone use is considerably lower than that for all UK adults – on average, adults with a mobile phone aged 65 and over make five calls per week, and send two text messages, compared to 20 calls and 28 text messages for the UK as a whole.
  • Amongst older internet users, weekly use at home is broadly the same as that for all UK adults (at 6.1 versus 6.5 hours), although use outside the home is negligible.
  • Concerns about TV are more common amongst older people than amongst UK adults as a whole, with concerns about radio at a similar level to the overall average. Concerns about the internet and mobile phones are lower than among UK adults as a whole.
  • Older people rate their competence for using the internet higher than their competence for using both mobile phones and digital TV. However, levels of competence overall are lower than for UK adults as a whole, as higher numbers of older people state that they aren’t interested or have no perceived need.
  • Knowledge of industry funding and regulation is high for TV and radio, and the same as that of UK adults overall. Knowledge of internet funding amongst all over-65s is lower than that of the UK overall, although internet users aged 65 and over are just as likely as internet users generally to know about funding.


  • Around half of those aged 65 – 74 have digital TV (51%) compared to 62% of all UK adults surveyed, although this drops to 36% of those aged over 75.
  • Around half of those aged 65 and over say they can use Teletext/Ceefax, and can set up a recording on the VCR. Over one third of those with DTV say they can use the interactive button. Levels of competence are, however, lower than for the UK adult average. Between one quarter and one half of all those aged 65 and over say they are not interested in or have no need for the various features relating to TV.
  • Compared to all UK adults, older people are more likely to be aware of how the BBC is funded, although somewhat less likely to be aware of the 9pm watershed.
  • Three in five (59%) older people say they have any concerns ‘about what is on TV’; considerably higher than amongst all adults (46%). Nominations are dominated by concerns over content.
  • One in seven (15%) older people with the relevant technologies have interacted having seen something on television either by mobile phone, the internet or with the interactive button on their TV remote control. This compares to one in three (34%) of all UK adults.


  • Nearly one quarter of those aged 65 and over say they have access to digital radio services, compared to 44% of all UK adults.
  • Self-reported hours of radio listening are similar to those of all UK adults at around 15 hours per week.
  • Half of people aged 65 and over are aware that radio is regulated and are aware of how commercial stations are mainly funded.
  • Concerns about radio are low. Just one in ten (10%) older adults says they have any concerns ‘about what is on radio’; a similar figure to all UK adults.


  • Just over two thirds (68%) of internet users aged 65 and over use it for communication on a weekly basis, only slightly less than all UK adult internet users (72%). Nearly one-third use the internet for transactions (for example banking, or shopping) on a weekly basis. Over one quarter use it to look at news. Overall breadth of use however is narrower than that of all UK adults.
  • Some 34% of older people know how the BBC website is mainly funded, compared to 46% of all UK adults. One in ten older people knows the main way of funding for search engine websites, compared to 25% of all UK adults. This reflects the lower penetration of the internet amongst older people.
  • Nearly half of older internet owners (44%) say they are confident about blocking viruses and spam, compared to 58% of all UK adults with the internet at home.
  • The proportion of older people saying that ‘someone else tends to’ block computer viruses or e-mail spam or unwanted e-mail messages is no different than that for all UK adults (around one in five of both groups).

Mobile phones

  • Most older people with a mobile phone (82%) claim to make one or more calls per week, but just one quarter (24%) say they send any texts.
  • Older people consequently spend an average of £8 per month compared to £22 for all UK adults with a mobile phone.
  • Older people use their mobile phone for a much narrower range of services than UK adults as a whole. Two in five older people with a mobile phone make no use of it in a typical week.
  • Over half of older people with a mobile phone say they are confident about locking their phone, and storing a new contact on it (58% and 51% respectively). Nearly half can listen back to voicemail messages with confidence (44%). Three in ten say they can send a text message with confidence. Nearly half of older people say they are uninterested in sending a text message, or changing the ringtone on their phone.
  • Similar numbers of all adults and older adults say they have concerns about mobile phones – at around 4 in 10. The two main areas of concern for older people are risks to health and risks to society, standards or values.

Sources of news

  • As with all adults, almost all older people use TV for news and TV is also the most used source. One quarter of those aged 65 and over say that they use newspapers most, compared to 19% of all UK adults. The radio is used as a source of news by slightly fewer older people. Few people aged 65 and over use Teletext as a source of news (4%), compared to 11% of all UK adults.
  • Focusing on respondents who expressed an opinion either way, older people are more likely to trust radio news than are all UK adults, while levels of trust in TV news, news websites and newspapers do not differ between the two age-groups.
  • Levels of distrust in news websites are, however, significantly higher amongst older people.

Attitudes and preferences

  • Over half of those aged 65 and over say they would miss television the most out of an array of media activities. One in five says they would miss the radio most, and one in 10 newspapers. The figures for both radio and newspapers are higher than for the UK adults as a whole.
  • Nearly two in five (37%) of people aged 65 and over spend ‘all or nearly all’ of their leisure time at home, compared to 17% of all UK adults. Those with a disability, those aged 75+, and those living alone are more likely to do so.
  • Some 40% of those aged 65 or over say that they try to keep up with new technology, and 43% say they are interested in it (compared to 66% and 68% for all UK adults). Nearly 70% of older people say that they like technology to be simple and straightforward, compared to 59% of all UK adults.
  • One in eight (13%) older people says they would like to learn more about various elements of media, compared to 32% of all adults. Some 7% of older people say they are interested in learning about the internet, and 7% say they have already learned about it through classes or training. Those aged over 75, and those living alone, are significantly less likely to express interest in, or say that they have learned already, about aspects of the media.

The full document is available below