U.K. TV Viewing Flattens, Will That Be Coming To America?

Netflix looks to be gaining customers again after price changes caused some bleeding. College students are putting off homework to watch online streams on laptops at the library. Heavily funded YouTube thinks it can keep people around longer with a slew of long-form channels.

And yet, TV executives ostensibly don’t seem worried that new platforms will cost them chunks of viewers. They quickly point to research showing that traditional TV viewing continues to rise even with all the emerging options -- the latest Nielsen figures indeed show that average monthly viewing at home increased about 2%.

That’s with viewing online and on-mobile rising 15% and 20%, respectively.

The couch, the massive HD screen, the feeling of omnipotence the remote control brings. Americans love their TV.

Yet, switch an “S” with a “K” and there’s a sign of leveling off. The average U.K. viewer watched 4 hours and 2 minutes of linear TV a day in 2011, the same as the year before.



That's as shows like “The X Factor,” “Downton Abbey” and “EastEnders,” along with soccer magicians like Wayne Rooney, attract pretty large audiences.

(British affection for TV does appear to be below the American fascination. By one metric, the average American watches 16% more TV a week on average.)

A year ago, the U.K. trade association for commercial TV -- Thinkbox -- predicted live, linear viewing had peaked. This year with the flattening, Thinkbox isn't predicting a recovery, but says it will “stabilize after a sustained period of record growth.”

Thinkbox indicated that new viewing platforms are not impacting linear viewing, suggesting there is some genuine ebbing. Figures from the U.K.'s Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) indicate an additional 1.2% of viewing takes place on alternate devices -- a 2.9% bump for the 16-to-34 demo, which British advertisers key on.

Of course, TV viewing behaviors giveth and taketh away. Besides suggestions that online migration will hurt viewership, U.S. TV executives have battled suggestions for years that DVRs would lead to mass ad skipping. They’ve largely pegged that as overblown. At least in the short term, they appear to be right.

U.K. data might be even more persuasive on that track. Time-shifted viewing is increasing, accounting for 9.4% of all viewing in 2011 -- which was up from 7.6% last year.

And, yet for commercial TV – non-BBC channels – the number of ads watched in normal speed was up 2.6% over 2010, according to Thinkbox data. And it has risen 20% over the last five years.

The average viewer watched 43 ads a day in 2009, then 47 in 2010 and up again to 48 last year.

Is the reason simply clutter with networks running more ads? Apparently not. The U.K. version of the FCC recently decided to keep limits in place on the number of ads that can run.






1 comment about "U.K. TV Viewing Flattens, Will That Be Coming To America?".
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  1. Claudio Marcus from FreeWheel, January 27, 2012 at 7:33 a.m.

    While it is true that time-shifted viewing as a percentage of all viewing is increasing, both in the UK and the US, the increase is driven by higher penetration of DVRs and not more time-shifted viewing among households that already have DVR. On average, households with DVRs still watch live TV nearly 80% of their total time spend with video (Source: It is also notable that this includes innovators and early adopters who may have been more attractive to time-shifting. As DVRs increasingly penetrate a broader population, the percentage of time viewing in time-shifted mode may actually be lower than that for early adopters.

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