A Crucial Snapshot Of Media Change

Ofcom’s Media Nations 2018 report, published last week, is the broadcasting regulator’s most comprehensive look at trends in the UK media market – what media channels people use; how they access those channels; and how they feel about it all.

It’s a fascinating piece of market research, free to download, and of interest to anyone who’s a stakeholder in the UK media. It’s the most objective look at media trends you’re likely to see.

Here are the points we think will be most interesting to System1’s customers – and our commentary on them.

TV still dominates video consumption.

Even when change feels rapid, it’s often still relatively slow. The report shows that the average time UK adults spend in front of ‘the box’ has barely changed in the last five years, but there’s a continuing shift away from live broadcast TV towards “unmatched” viewing like YouTube or SVOD (Subscription Video-on-Demand) services like Netflix. Even so, live TV viewing is clearly by far the biggest chunk of TV watching.

But the younger you are, the faster your behaviour changes.

So why are some so dismissive of TV’s future? Because of statistics like this – the younger your agegroup, the quicker your broadcast TV viewing is declining. This has been one of the headline findings from the study – for 16-34 year olds, broadcast TV now accounts for less than half their screen time. Behaviour is a function of habit, and younger audiences aren’t picking up the habit of broadcast TV as strongly as they used to.

These two charts paint a mixed picture. But this next one can help reconcile them.

TV is still your best shot at mass reach – EVEN for those tricky young people.

This, in a nutshell, is why TV still matters and why its decline should worry marketers. No other media is as good at doing what TV does – delivering mass reach, even of younger age brackets, which is the core ingredient of successful brand building.

We are NOT (yet) a nation of Netflix binge-watchers.

The shift in UK media is often simplified as a move away from broadcast to VOD.  Netflix – the market leader in SVOD – is generally mentioned. But the truth is that no one VOD format is accounting for anything like as much airtime as broadcast TV, even among younger viewers. Netflix and other SVOD services, for instance, earn an average viewing time of 18 minutes per day across all adults. That’s still a big chunk for a new market. But that friend of yours who just binge-watched the whole of Jessica Jones or Glow is still very much an early adopter.

And when we do watch subscription services we often reach for the familiar, not the new.

This isn’t the most important chart in the report but it’s a very telling one. The most popular show on SVOD, with more than double the streams of its nearest competitor, is Friends: a sitcom made in the 90s and shown on repeat on terrestrial UK TV for years.

Of course, for anyone aware of the principle of Fluent Innovation, this isn’t a big surprise. People like their innovations with a big, comforting dose of familiarity. So it’s no shock that when Brits pay for a Netflix subscription and its oceans of unfamiliar new content, they reach first for the comforting presence of Ross, Rachel, et al.

TV is getting better (maybe).

Is the shift in viewing behaviour about technology or quality? Definitely the former, if this finding is anything to go by. After years of pessimism, the gap between people who feel TV is getting worse and those who feel it’s improving is at its lowest ever.

Why soaps are declining: it’s a Fluency thing!

And that helps shed light on one of the study’s other big headline-making findings – the fact that Brits are turning away from soap operas. In 2007 a mighty 172 soap episodes hit the 10 million viewer mark. In 2017, none did. The number of episodes hitting 8 million viewers plunged by 87%.

Soaps are an important canary in the TV coalmine because their viewing is based on habit, not just enjoyment. They ask their audience to come back every day. Ofcom’s report suggests that the decline in soaps is driving the overall decline in broadcast TV viewing. We think it’s also the other way around. As people get out of the habit of watching broadcast TV, the chance of them tuning in for a big soap episode declines.

In the end, habit is at the heart of the Media Nations report. It paints a complicated picture of social and technological change, which doesn’t lend itself to an easy soundbite. The picture isn’t one of rapid disruption but of long-standing habits that are gradually – but definitely – eroding.


At System1, we help advertisers make confident, creative decisions that lead to transformational business results. Our powerful ad testing platform (Test Your Ad) and our idea testing platform (Test Your Idea) help brands predict the commercial potential of ads and ideas. Complementing TYA and TYI is Test Your Brand, our brand monitoring tool which measures the impact of ads and ideas on brand health, ensuring long-term brand growth through predictive success.

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