TV screen time

Glued to the goggle box

There’s a fairly widespread notion, not least among those who are only vaguely well-acquainted with the relevant research, that we’re falling out of love with our TV sets.

We’re not, as our figures here show.

It’s worth taking time to absorb this. It’s perhaps the single most important revelation in this report.

Over the last few years, you’ve probably heard about “the death of TV” many times. In some respects it’s an easy proposition to fall for, especially if your main sources of information are, ultimately, people whose job it is to sell mobile advertising.

Clearly, at some levels, the manner in which we access audio-visual content is changing. We’re now watching more timeshifted content on our PVRs and sometimes the shift involved is considerable (a growth in 8-28 day and 29+ day viewing). We’re also accessing catch-up programming through the online media players and the apps of established broadcasters, and via SVOD platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

All of which impacts on the BARB gold standard audience figures, which includes viewing, both live and timeshifted, to programmes that were broadcast in the last seven days. This figure has been declining slightly. In 2016, for instance, it was down 2% year-on-year.

The decline in this headline figure is sometimes seized on as evidence in support of gloomy prognostications about the future prospects for existing broadcast companies. It’s also used to argue the case that, if people are still watching audio-visual content, they’re increasingly likely to be doing so on laptops, tablets and smartphones.

And of course we’re seeing something of that.

But (and this is the bit you might struggle to absorb) we’re actually spending more time in front of our TV sets. The increase is marginal: 0.1%. But still, that represents a huge chasm between perception (in some quarters of the industry) and reality.

And yes, there are some caveats to enter here. Some of the time we spend with eyes glued to the TV is time spent playing console games.

Some will also note with interest that year-on-year gold standard viewing is down most significantly against younger age groups: children and 16-24s. But even here it’s important to note the small margins we’re playing with. Children’s total TV screen time was down year-on-year by only 3%.

And the 25-34 age group is particularly fascinating. These are the people whose formative years coincided with the digital revolution. You’d expect this group to exhibit the most radical changes in behaviour. Not so. This age group is, like other adult age groups, spending more time (up 1.4% year-on-year) in front of their TV sets.

So, to repeat: while there’s evidence in our figures of a shift of emphasis away from live and 7-day viewing, there is no evidence here of a fundamental rejection of the TV set per se.

At some point during the course of this year, it’s likely that you’ll witness someone taking to a conference platform to tell you in all sincerity that young people don’t want TV any more. Or if they do, they do it only on their mobiles.

Feel free, when you hear this, to refer the speaker to these pages.