Why technology has revolutionised the way we watch TV
IF you’ve sat and watched several episodes of your favourite TV programme back-to-back, you’re in good company. More than eight in ten Northern Ireland adults have done the same, using services like the BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and newer subscription services such as Netflix and Amazon. This revealing figure is one of many that jumps out from Ofcom’s annual Communications Market Report 2017 (details at www.ofcom.org.uk/cmr). The report paints a picture of an increasingly interconnected Northern Ireland, where the internet is now available and accessed through our TV as well as smartphones and tablets. And it underlines how viewers are embracing the freedom to watch what they want, when they want. Long gone are the days when there were a handful of TV channels and just a single TV in the house on which to watch them. While watching live TV remains important, people are increasingly turning to catch-up and on-demand streaming platforms. Services from “traditional” broadcasters, such as the BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub, are the most popular ways of watching on-demand and streaming programmes but significant numbers are also using YouTube for watching programmes and films (27 per cent), while 28 per cent now use Netflix and 16 per cent use Amazon Video. The growing popularity of on demand services is turning us into a nation of binge viewers, where we watch multiple episodes of a series in one sitting, wiping out the wait for next week’s instalment.
One third (35 per cent) of adults in Northern Ireland do so every week, and more than half (55 per cent) do it monthly. This technology has been around for a while but we are now seeing a tipping point where these services have become mainstream. Adding to this is the increased availability of faster broadband speeds, connected and smart TVs as well as portable devices like smartphones and tablets. These are important developments not just for consumers but for companies providing these services and for media professionals that use these platforms for advertising, sponsorship and promotion. These changes aren’t yet seismic but a trend has been developing in recent years, which is the kind of thing that Ofcom’s Communications Market Report is adept at picking up. For context, it’s worth stressing just how important and dominant traditional media, including how we watch TV and listen to radio, still is in Northern Ireland. This year’s regional report shows people spend more time watching live TV (an average of 3 hours 36 minutes a day) than engaging in any other communications activity. Ofcom’s research also shows that people continue to turn to TV first to keep-up with the latest news. More than seven in ten adults (72 per cent) in Northern Ireland say TV is the most important source of news in Northern Ireland, followed by radio (12 per cent) and websites or apps (7 per cent).
Listening to the radio continues to play an important part in our lives, and nine in ten people in Northern Ireland tune in every week. On average, we listen to more than 20 hours of radio every week. People in Northern Ireland are more likely to tune into local BBC and commercial stations than listeners elsewhere.
These stations account for 60 per cent of listening, compared to 36 per cent for the UK as a whole. So, while viewers and listeners are consuming media in more ways than ever, the core activities of watching live TV and listening to radio remain strong. But researching the trends that are developing around these activities is key to understanding what people will be doing in three, five or 10 years.
:: James Stinson is regulatory affairs manager at Ofcom Northern Ireland