Our TV landscape is evolving. We are no longer confined to the broadcasters’ schedules.
Instead we are scheduling our own viewing to fit in with our lives, supplementing live broadcast TV viewing with broadcasters’ on-demand and streaming services, recorded TV and subscription on-demand and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which are becoming increasingly mainstream. Combined with the increase in take-up of fixed broadband (79% of households in Northern Ireland in 2017, compared to 66% in 2012) and portable devices (76% and 62% of people used a smartphone and tablet in 2017 compared to 34% and 9% in 2012).
But it is not a simple shift from live broadcast TV to on-demand and streaming. Live broadcast TV remains a central component, but increasingly people are using different services and types of content to meet different needs. This section explores the needs met by these different servicesg, and the benefits and disadvantages of this new approach to TV consumption.
In 2017, satellite television was the most widely-used main television service in Northern Ireland.
Half of all households in Northern Ireland have satellite television as their main TV platform; this continues to be higher than in the UK overall.
Freeview is the next most popular service, while one in ten adults nominated Hybrid DTT and IPTV (such as BT TV, EE TV, etc). Take-up of each service is unchanged since 2016.
Take-up of satellite TV is higher in rural areas of Northern Ireland (60% vs. 49% in urban areas) and take-up of cable services is higher in urban areas (10% vs. 1% rural), probably due to its lower availability in rural locations.
Compared to the UK overall, penetration of satellite TV is higher in Northern Ireland, although households in Northern Ireland are less likely than in the UK overall to have cable TV, or no TV at all.
There are 51 stations available on DAB in Northern Ireland. This comprises 13 from the BBC, 30 stations on the Sound Digital and Digital One multiplexes, and eight commercial stations on local DAB multiplexes.
However, not all these stations will be available on DAB to listeners across the whole of Northern Ireland.
The proportion of households within the coverage area for each DAB transmitter network (operated by the BBC, Digital One and Sound Digital Ltd) varies.
There are also 33 analogue stations available in Northern Ireland.
The telecoms network across Northern Ireland has been upgraded in recent years so that broadband via VDSL is available to most premises.
This is enabled by the deployment of fibre-to-the-cabinet, whereby fibre-optic cables are laid from the local telephone exchange to the cabinet serving a premise, and broadband is delivered via VDSL technology over the copper wire between the cabinet and the premises. However, an issue with VDSL is that speeds slow down over the length of the copper – and a long copper line between cabinet and premise can mean that speeds can be much lower than the superfast speeds (>30Mbit/s) typically associated with fibre connections.
Two locations in Northern Ireland have been chosen to take part in the first commercial pilot of a new technology to increase the speed of fibre broadband over very long phone lines.
The scheme to test the technology, long reach VDSL, will include premises in Kesh and Pomeroy. Long reach VDSL operates at higher power levels, and makes use of a wider range of frequencies to increase broadband speeds and the distance over which they can be delivered.
The pilot builds on the success of trials which began in the UK in 2016, with Kesh and Pomeroy becoming the first of six new locations that have been picked to help BT NI Networks and Openreach (in Britain) understand how the technology might improve broadband performance in rural areas. If the pilots prove successful, they will remain in operation at the higher speed for the foreseeable future.
In 2017, more than eight in ten (83%) households in Northern Ireland have access to the internet. Internet take-up levels in Northern Ireland are statistically unchanged since 2016.
Almost eight in ten households in Northern Ireland (79%) have access to fixed broadband at home, and two-thirds (68%) of adults in Northern Ireland use the internet through a mobile phone, both figures unchanged since 2016.
The proportion of adults in Northern Ireland accessing the internet exclusively through a mobile phone or smartphone remains stable at 3%, while mobile broadband to a device other than a phone has declined among households in Northern Ireland since 2016 (from 5% to 1%).
Six in ten adults in Northern Ireland are using more email instead of post, compared to two years ago.
Sixty-two per cent of adults in Northern Ireland say they are using email more than they did two years ago as a substitute for post, a similar level as in the UK overall (65%). More than four in ten (43%) say they are using texts / SMS more, and 36% choose mobile phone calls. A quarter mention social networking (25%) and more than one in five say instant messaging (22%).
Fifteen per cent of adults in Northern Ireland say that that they aren’t using any form of communication in particular more at the expense of post; this is in line with the UK overall (15%).