TV isn’t dead, and other insights from Ofcom’s Media Nations report

Pete Morgan

16 September 2019

Marketers are bombarded with stats, trends, and insights predicting the rise or fall of different technologies, channels, and tools.

Understanding which to acknowledge and which to ignore can feel like a full time job, particularly when so much research is produced for promotional reasons by organizations with a clear bias.

Independent, statistically valid research may be hard to find, but it’s often worth its weight in gold: cutting through industry hyperbole and prejudice to reveal the reality of a given topic.

Ofcom, the UK regulatory body for broadcasting and telecoms, produces such research – compelled by its charter to offer transparent, bias-free insight on UK media usage.

Its latest report – Media Nations 2019 – offers a detailed and thorough analysis of UK media consumption, but three points jumped out to me as particularly relevant for marketers of all disciplines.

And while the data for this report is from the UK, I suspect the underlying behaviour is being witnessed in many other markets.

Smartphones are becoming utterly dominant, even eating into tablet usage

According to Ofcom’s research, 79% of adults have an internet-enabled smartphone, with 88% of these having a 4G service – facilitating good quality video streaming over a mobile network.

52% of respondents consider their smartphone the most important device for going online –compared with just 15% in 2013.

These figures are hardly surprising given the vast improvement in smartphone functionality.

What is more interesting is the cannibalization of other devices by smartphones – including tablets.

While 54% of households have a tablet device, 2019 is the first year in which ownership has dropped year on year, by 4 percentage points (pp) – mirroring drops in ownership of laptop devices (down 3pp to 63%) and PCs (down 4pp to 24%).

Smartphones are becoming utterly dominant at the expense of other devices.

Broadcast TV viewing is still huge

I’ve met several senior marketers this past year who have claimed TV is dead so not worth considering for marketing strategy. These opinions are not based on fact.

While broadcast TV viewership is decreasing, it is still – and by far – the most common way to watch TV and video content in the UK: accounting for over two-thirds of TV and video viewing in 2018 (69%).

And while video streaming is making gains, 95% of UK households still have a TV set receiving broadcast programmes. That represents a decrease of only 1pp in the past 6 years.

TV is certainly not dead – and should still be front of centre for consumer marketers looking to build brand awareness.

The TV set will live long beyond broadcasting

The adoption of smart TVs has risen greatly over the past seven years as functionality has improved – from 5% of households in 2012 to 47% in 2019.

One outcome of this trend is that non-broadcast video content (e.g. YouTube) is no longer limited to laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Indeed, despite the large amount of YouTube content viewed on smartphones, more than half of total non-broadcast video content (51%) is now viewed on a TV set.

While broadcast TV viewing may be decreasing (albeit slower than many headlines would suggest), this does not predict the end for the TV set itself.

Human behaviour is remarkably persistent: while new technologies come and go, the factors that made the TV set a cornerstone of video consumption will likely remain for years to come.