Living room TV is 'making a comeback', says Ofcom

By Dave Lee
Technology reporter, BBC News

image captionThe way we were - in the 1950s homes were likely to have one screen at most
image captionThe way we are - Ofcom says mobile devices are bringing us back to the living room

UK families are more likely to watch TV together now than they have been in over a decade, according to a study.

Communications regulator Ofcom said 91% of adults watched their main TV set once a week - up from 88% in 2002 - but their attention may be distracted.

It said the popularity of smartphones and tablets was taking teens out of bedrooms back into family rooms.

Most family members now multi-tasked while sitting in front of the TV, the survey of 3,700 over 16s found.

Far from technology pulling family time apart, it said, the huge growth in mobile was actually having the opposite effect. Family members are being brought together just as they were in the 1950s when a TV was likely to be a home's only screen.

"There are number of factors that are fuelling this - we're now watching on much bigger, better television sets," said Jane Rumble, Ofcom's head of media research.

"But also, there's the rise of connected devices, such as a smartphone or tablet. We're coming into the living room today clutching those devices, they offer a range of opportunities to do things while we're watching television."

media captionBBC News spoke to Chris Ward and his family about their viewing habits, and which device they could not live without

More than half of those surveyed said they distracted themselves from television by talking on the phone, texting friends, using social networks or even watching different content altogether on YouTube or other streaming sites.

A quarter of those asked also said they were "media meshers", people who use devices to do something related to the programme they are watching. This might be tweeting or using tie-in apps for shows such as Britain's Got Talent.

Backing up a long-regarded view of the sexes, the research said it was women who were more likely to multi-task when watching TV.

These changing habits have left advertisers needing to adapt but change is slow in happening, said Daniel Knapp, director of advertising research at the IHS consultancy.

"Advertising is an extremely conservative industry, focusing on what works and where a return on investment is clear," he told the BBC.

Multiplying machines

The trend has been attributed largely to massively increased ownership of smartphones and tablets.

Ofcom said that just over half of adults now use a smartphone, up from 27% just two years ago. The number of tablet owners has more than doubled too, from 11% to 24% in a year.

It means the average UK household owns more than three devices capable of connecting to the internet, with one in five homes having more than six.

In contrast to the proliferation of mobile devices, the number of televisions we own is steadily decreasing.

Teenagers' bedrooms, once incomplete without a small TV in the corner, are now less likely to have sets.

According to Ofcom's data, 52% of UK kids aged 5-15 have TVs in their room, compared with 69% in 2007.

Watching television - particularly sports and other live events - is becoming a pursuit enjoyed solely in the living room on TVs that are getting larger.

Sets measuring 43in (109cm) or above accounted for 15.8% of all TV sales during the first three months of this year, up 4.3% on 2012, said Ofcom.

Despite the popularity of on-demand services such as the BBC's iPlayer, the huge majority of TV watching is still as-broadcast.

"Although there are changes in audience behaviour, when it comes to overall scale, on-demand still cannot complete with linear TV," said Mr Knapp.

Breaking up

The Communications Market Report, which the regulator publishes once a year, also looks at habits across various different parts of our digital lives.

Tablets are seen by parents as a great way to keep children entertained with apps, as well as providing a way for the youngsters to watch the programmes they want while the adults view other shows.

One in three parents said they encouraged their child to use their tablet for school or college work.

image captionAlmost all tablet-owning parents said they used the device to keep kids entertained

For teens and younger adults aged 16-24 sending messages via mobile internet messaging apps, rather than the typical SMS text, is now more popular.

And compared to older generations, this age group has less restraint when it comes to what is off-limits.

One in five 16-24 year olds said they considered it reasonable to start a relationship via text, email or instant message.

Sixteen percent said they had no problem with ending a relationship in this way. Two percent of over-75s surveyed thought the same.

The report also indicated:

  • 85% of tablet owners keep it at home
  • 91% of parents said their children use a tablet
  • 11% of tablet owners use their device in the bathroom
  • Drama is the most popular programme genre to watch on catch-up, news is the least popular
  • Mobile internet use among the over-55s has increased considerably in the past three years

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