The UK Television Landscape Report

Isles of television wonder

30 May 2017

As the first scenes of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony flashed across our screens, we were reminded of the four nations of the United Kingdom joining under one flag to compete together as one.  The tones of Jerusalem, Flower of Scotland, Danny Boy and Bread of Heaven, sang by children from across the country, didn’t fail to stir the emotions of those watching.  It was a symbol and acknowledgement of the four different cultures of these lands.

But even within these nations, thousands of years of historical socio and economic context still to this day provide rich differences in how we go about our lives.

And this is even so when it comes to consuming media. How media interacts and plays a role in our lives changes depending on where we live in the country.  We are able to see this within BARB, as data are published at a regional level as well as a UK level. For example, below, these data are based on ITV local regions, although these can also be analysed at a BBC editorial region level.



What is clear, is that there are stark differences in television viewing habits depending on where in the UK one resides.  Wales, the Borders and Scotland watch the most television, while London and the South East of England watch the least.  If you live in Scotland, you are likely to watch 23% more television than someone living in London.

But why is this? What makes those in Wales and Scotland likely to watch more television than those in Northern Ireland and the majority of England?  Well, from the Establishment Survey we are able to investigate further into how different characteristics across the United Kingdom help to shape and influence our television viewing behaviours.

A good reception

Not so long ago, the only way in which to access television was through an aerial, most often stuck to the top of your home, but in many cases also portable. Individuals up and down the country, desperately trying to point their aerial in the direction of the local transmitter to get the best signal and picture possible. Where we lived and where our transmitter was, impacted hugely to the reception we got.  The physical geography of where we lived, mattered. It was far easier to get channels from the Crystal Palace transmitter in the relatively flat lowlands of London, than it was from the towering Moel-Y-Parc transmitter in Wales, where the heights of the Snowdonia mountains would obstruct the line of sight.

It is little wonder then that how we receive our television changes based on where we live, and as such gives insight into the different geographical constructs of the country itself.


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Across the UK, 32% access their television channels through the Sky platform, but this drops to 29% in London and increases to 42% in the Borders and 40% in Wales.  Interestingly, for Virgin Media the penetration is entirely dependent on whether there is existing cable infrastructure in the area or not, with many households in the UK physically unable to get access to cable. This is most noticeable with results in the Borders with little to no cable availability. The result being that the Borders has the highest penetration of Sky households in the entire UK.  Scotland and London on the other hand, lead the way in cable penetration with over 16% and 18% of households respectively with Virgin Media subscription.

Sìnteis VOD

In just five years SVOD services such as Netflix have quickly established themselves within the household TV landscape. Augmenting our broadcast line-up, we are able to select from a wide variety of archive content as well as newly acclaimed productions. Across the UK as a whole, Netflix was estimated to be in 25% homes in Q1 2017, and for any SVOD service this figure was 32%. However, that figure differs significantly depending on where we are in the country.


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What can be seen here is that it is the Scottish who lead the way in SVOD take up, with Netflix subscription now in 31% of homes and Amazon in 13% of homes.  We’ve already seen that Scotland is one of the highest consumers of broadcast TV but it seems it doesn’t stop there, they want more.

Interestingly, along the Scottish and English Borders, we see the lowest levels of SVOD take-up in the country. The area that first underwent a full switch to digital television is also the least likely to look for subscription VOD services to augment its broadcast viewing.  As we’ve already seen, the Borders have little to no cable network coverage and therefore unable to benefit from the bundling of SVOD and cable services that often arises. This leaves homes in the Borders reliant on other connected devices to the TV as their source of watching SVOD. A clear sign of the symbiosis of SVOD services integrated with broadcast providers. Whereas Virgin Media integrate Netflix within its own EPG, the Sky platform does not, meaning the differentials in platform penetrations can have direct consequences on household SVOD services.

And although it is the Scottish who lead the way in Netflix subscriptions, it is the South East of England that favour Amazon Prime Video, with 18% of households subscribing to these services against a UK figure of 13%. Perhaps this is content related, with those in the South East choosing Amazon for particular programmes and genres. Or perhaps there is something else at hand, and it is related to higher e-commerce rates in this area of the country. These households could be taking advantage of Amazon’s bundling of free next day delivery together with subscription to their Video and Music services.

Sizing up

We saw earlier that those in Scotland and also the North East of England, like to watch more television than most of the rest of the country. But it’s not just the quantity that matters here, it’s the quality.  Together with Northern Ireland, households in the North East and Scotland are far more likely than anywhere else in the UK to have at least a 50 inch TV screen. If they are going to watch television, it is going to be on the largest screen possible.


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Working nine to five

As with most media, we consume it across different times of the day, suiting differing needs: escapism, relaxation, information. We choose to engage with the media of our choice and, where we can, at the time of our choice. Of course, there are only 24 hours in any day, and commitments during the day have a direct consequence on how and when we are able to consume our favourite media. Not least of all these commitments are those through our employment. Being at work nine to five naturally inhibits whether we can watch our favourite programme on television.


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Therefore, it is only natural to assume the employment rate has direct impacts on the ability of viewers to watch television. With high employment rates, the time pressures on viewers to watch what they want to watch at home on the TV set are like never before.

We can see from the Establishment Survey that London has the highest full time employment rates in the UK of 53%, followed closely by the South East of England, North West and East with 49%, 48% and 48% respectively. With high employment rates coupled together with longer commuter times in the South East, it is therefore little wonder that London has the lowest viewing levels within the UK as a whole.

Screen sharer

Although television has always been a medium for sharing together with your family, it is not surprising that we might not always agree on what to watch. Therefore we are often faced with the choice of recording our preferred show and watching at another time, or of course watching on another TV set in the home.  It therefore goes to follow that the more people who live in your home, the more opportunity there is for disagreement and the need for more than one TV set.

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In the UK, there are on average 2.3 individuals per household. In those households, there are on average 1.9 TV sets. That’s an average of 0.8 TV sets per person, so not quite a TV each.

Now, looking across the UK, we can see that the assumptive theory holds true and there is a relationship between more people in the home and the more TV sets in those homes. Northern Ireland has the highest average number of individuals per household, and also the highest average number of TV sets.

However, as if often the case, London is the exception to this rule. London has the second highest number of people living per household but the lowest number of TV sets. An area of significant migration and of increasing housing costs has meant that first time buyer rates within London and the South East are much lower than the rest of the county.

This has led to higher than average household sizes. As for the number of TV sets, London has the highest rate of households without TV sets, with a younger and more transient demographic than the rest of the UK. If you’re regularly on the move between house-shares, the last thing you may want is the burden of a 40 inch flat screen TV to carry.

Whatever the reason, the impact on TV viewing is significant; fewer screens competing for more eyeballs. Perhaps this is the real reason for all those unhappy faces on the London commute?

We know where you live

Across the UK today, households up and down the country will settle down this evening to watch their favourite television programmes. But how they watch those programmes, on what type of screen and through which platform they receive it, may just depend on whereabouts they live.