The Viewing Report

Devices in the TV ecosystem

21 May 2019

I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! © ITV

Smartphones and tablets have become so ubiquitous and so much a part of our everyday lives that it’s easy to forget that it’s only since 2007 (the first iPhone) and 2010 (the first iPad) that we’ve been using these kinds of devices (other brands are available). And while they have had a revolutionary impact on people’s experience of television, allowing them to watch whenever and wherever they want, BARB data show that time spent with BVOD services on PCs, tablets and smartphones only adds approximately 1.3% to TV set viewing, and viewing seem to be stabilising there.

The enduring affection that UK viewers have for the TV set has been the story of recent years, influenced in part by the growing number of households with smart TV sets – internet-connected devices featuring BVOD services, SVOD services and social media apps. But while viewing on non-TV set devices has perhaps turned out to be much less of a revolution than was anticipated by the industry, these devices remain an important priority for BARB to report on. A fascinating source of insight about how people are adapting to a multi-device television world is emerging.

This first chart provides a snapshot of viewing on non-TV set devices, week by week across 2018. The peaks along this timeline are a reminder of those moments when we just can’t manage to get home to see events unfolding live, or when someone else has got command of the TV set remote control. Sometimes it’s been politics (breaking news on Brexit, anyone?), or the weather (Beast from the East) that’s had us grabbing our devices; it’s also been television’s capacity to create events of its own making – whether the highly-addictive Love Island (that yet again attracted a younger, device-orientated summer audience in their droves), the final episode of Bodyguard or I’m a Celebrity that again took us to the sweltering jungle as we hunkered down for the winter. Many would say that it was the football World Cup, one of the biggest global television events of them all, that registered the year’s biggest peaks in viewing on non-TV devices (whilst fans of Love Island would rightly remind us that it too was running throughout those World Cup weeks). It’s all these kinds of events that can make our devices particularly irresistible.

Taking a longer-term view back to the beginning of 2017, this next chart can show us the evolution in share of device viewing, with tablets holding their own since 2017 as the device with the highest share; while smartphones are steadily taking share from PCs over the same period. It’s well-reported that penetration of tablets and smartphones have both plateaued (at high levels) in recent years (Ofcom tells us that 58% of households have tablets, 78% have smartphones), so it appears there’s a subtle behaviour change going on, not driven by device penetration but a simple preference for using smartphones rather than PCs for viewing television. The prevalence and utility of the BVOD service apps, and steadily enlarging smartphone screen sizes, are no doubt drivers of this.

So whilst there are still some subtle evolutions going on, it seems the overall landscape for viewing on devices is generally settling down. This chart reminds us that viewing on those devices (combined) still largely follows the daypart pattern that’s been long-established for the TV set, building from late afternoon onwards to the familiar evening peak at 21.00. It’s interesting, though, that device use seems to skew slightly later in the evening, with 22.00 being the second most-watched hour for devices, compared with 20.00 on TV sets. (Note that this chart combines two data-sets using two different scales on the vertical axes: the 2100 peak accounting for over 500 billion minutes on the TV set and just over 6 billion minutes on devices.)

Not all devices are the same, though; and this final chart gives us the 2018 picture of how we turn to different devices at different times of the day. Tablets account for the biggest share of non-TV set device viewing at every clock-hour – not surprising, perhaps, given their larger, quality screens. But the daypart pattern of viewing on tablets suggests that they continue to be devices generally used at home – gaining the most share before work (or school) and building share again in the late afternoon and all the way through the evening.

Viewing on PCs starts to look like it could be a guilty pleasure during working hours, but then takes a solid share throughout the evening too when it’s still more popular than smartphones.

It’s only in the ‘wee small hours’ that smartphones gain their peak share of viewing (night workers and insomniacs, perhaps) and only between 6am and 8am that smartphones take a higher share of device viewing than PCs; for many of us the first device we come into contact with on waking.

Generally, then, we’re seeing a picture of viewing on devices that’s settling into a stable pattern – with the TV set continuing to account for almost 99% of total viewing but with devices creating opportunities for must-see incremental viewing in other times and places.