What People Watch

What People Watch: Viewing by age group

9 February 2021
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Welcome to a new edition of What People Watch, a series exploring different aspects of how UK audiences are watching television now. In the last edition we at looked an aspect of viewing among younger audiences, this time we look at overall viewing across all age-groups.

TV set viewing to BARB-reported channels
Weekly viewing week 5

Seasonal viewing trends are that TV viewing in February is usually lower than January, and we are starting to see that pattern emerging in 2021, even with the continued impact of lockdown restrictions. Consolidated 7-day TV set viewing for Week 4 2021 was down 5 minutes a day compared to week 3, to 205 minutes. However, this remained over 10 minutes a day higher than the equivalent period last year. Like for like comparisons of the live and same-day viewing for week 5 indicate that the viewing for the most-recent week will also consolidate to a similar level.

The aggregate amount of unidentified viewing has also trended downwards since the early weeks of the year, reaching 88 minutes a day in week 5.

Viewing by age-group – linear TV
Linear viewing by age-group

With consolidated 7-day viewing now available for January, we can see how viewing in this almost full-month of lockdown compared to January 2020, a period prior to coronavirus restrictions.

Overall, viewing to linear TV channels is up +9% versus January 2020, with all age-groups 25+ showing growth year-on-year. The shape of the graph shows that there has been less change in the relative amounts watched – each age-band watched more than the preceding group, as was the case in January 2020. Compared to last year, Adults 65+ have seen the greatest percentage growth in their viewing, up +13%.
Although all groups have had more time at home this January than usual, this is not always reflected in greater time watching linear TV, but even here context is important.

The chart shows that viewing among Kids 4-15 is stable year-on-year, and viewing among Adults 16-24 is down slightly. But these figures have been delivered in an environment where viewing among these two groups has been dropping consistently on a longer-term trend. Looking back to the previous year, viewing in January 2020 among Children 4-15 was down -13% versus January 2019, following a -15% decline between January 2019 and January 2018. So the -2% decrease we see in 2021 is much lower than the earlier losses, and has arrested the decline somewhat. Adults 16-24 viewing shows a similar pattern, with the decline in January 2021 being lower than in previous years. This shows the impact both of greater availability to watch TV, as well as trends such as greater viewing to news in the current climate.

Viewing by age-group – unidentified TV-set use
Unidentified by age-group

Another element that we have tracked consistently through the lockdown periods is the continued growth in unidentified use of the TV-set. This category includes all uses of a TV set that BARB does not currently identify, such as console-gaming, viewing to broadcast programmes more than 28 days after transmission, and, importantly, the use of the TV set for watching subscription video on-demand (SVOD) services and video-sharing platforms.

We know that the continued growth of these services is a key factor in the increase of unidentified viewing. It’s also why BARB is committed to delivering more insight into the constituent parts of unidentified TV-set use. We are making progress towards this objective and we expect to be able to integrate data from the new router-meters later in 2021, with one benefit being the ability to measure aggregate levels of viewing to SVOD services and video-sharing platforms.

Some analysis of unidentified TV-set use is already possible, the chart above looks at the year-on-year comparison for January by age-group. It is shown on the same scale as the earlier TV viewing chart for comparability – although there is growth, levels remain well below the level of viewing to TV channels.

It’s also clear that this graph has a different shape, with the heaviest TV-set use congregated towards the younger age-groups. However, all age-groups have shown a year-on-year increase, which in part reflects the fact that over 60% of UK households now have access to at least one SVOD service. Adults 25-34 remain the group with the most unidentified TV-set use, although in terms of percentage change, it is the older groups that see the greatest growth year-on-year. With the strongest proportional growth coming from older audiences it will be interesting to see if SVOD services begin producing content aimed specifically at these groups.

What People Watch will return with further insights into current viewing behaviour.
Doug Whelpdale, Insights Manager, BARB

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