Guardian.co.uk: Predictions that the internet would kill the television star appear to be premature. Just as the cinema survived the advent of home video, TV is booming despite the growth of digital media and popularity of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
Viewers watched an average of three hours and 45 minutes of television a day in 2009, 3% more than in 2004, according to research published today by the media regulator Ofcom. TV continues to take centre stage in people’s evenings, boosted by the popularity of shows such as The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and Doctor Who.
Television’s popularity has also been boosted by digital video recorders (DVRs), now in 37% of households – and the introduction of high definition television, now in more than 5 million UK homes.
“Television still has a central role in our lives. We are watching more TV than at any time in the last five years,” said James Thickett, director of market research and market intelligence at Ofcom.
New technology offered viewers an enhanced, easy-to-use viewing experience, with 15% of all viewing time spent watching programmes recorded on to a DVR, he said.
“Unlike VHS, which was such a hassle to set up and record a programme that only a very small proportion of viewing was on video, DVRs give viewers the chance to watch the programmes they really want to watch. It is bringing people back into the living room.”
Commercial broadcasters should not rejoice too much, however, as DVR owners have the option to skip through the adverts.
The increase in TV viewing has also been driven by the growth in the UK’s ageing population: older people are likely to watch more television, with the average 65-year-old watching five hours and 14 minutes a day.
Older viewers were also more likely to say that the quality of television had deteriorated in the past year, according to Ofcom’s research, with 53% of over-65s saying programmes had got worse.
Digital television passed the 90% threshold for the first time last year, with 92.1% of homes having digital TV by the first quarter of 2010. The average weekly reach of multichannel television exceeded that of the five main TV channels – BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4 and Channel 5 – also for the first time in 2009.
“More people are getting access to a greater number of channels and that’s translating into greater number of viewing hours per person,” said Richard Broughton, a senior analyst at the audiovisual research company Screen Digest.
“Various people have predicted that the internet would kill off television but we have always said that TV would be here for a long time to come. It’s much harder for broadcasters and production companies to monetise content online, and there are all sorts of things that broadcast can do that online can’t, such as high definition.”
Broughton said viewers were using Facebook and Twitter while watching the television, rather than switching it off altogether. “In many cases television is complemented [by social media platforms] and not necessarily a direct competitor,” he added.
“It’s interesting to see what comments people are making while you are watching TV, and set manufacturers are now looking at putting functionality on TV that would allow you to watch Twitter feeds or go onto Facebook while you are watching your favourite TV programme.”
Viewers are also watching more on-demand television on catch-up services such as the BBC iPlayer and ITV Player. Live television retains a unique appeal among viewers, however, especially for talent shows such as Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor – both masterminded by Simon Cowell – and big sporting events such as the World Cup. Cowell’s two ITV1 talent shows accounted for four of the five most watched programmes of 2009, with the final of Britain’s Got Talent on 30 May taking the No 1 spot with an average of 16.5 million viewers.
The BBC1 sitcom The Royle Family was the most popular non-Cowell show in fifth place with 11.4 million viewers for its Christmas Day episode last year. EastEnders, Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! and Coronation Street made up the rest of the top 10 programmes, based on average audience, in 2009.
Ofcom said the growth in audience to video-sharing sites such as YouTube had begun to slow over the past two years.
Like television, the popularity of radio continues to surge ahead, with a new high of 90.6% of the population – 46.8 million adults – tuning in at least once a week in the second quarter of 2010.
However, the amount of time we spend listening to the radio has fallen, down 5.3% in the five years to 2009.