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Half of all UK households now subscribe to streaming services

The total number of streaming subscriptions in the UK leapt by 3.5 million in the last year

Ofcom has just released its Media Nations report, shedding some serious light on the UK’s shifting viewing habits. This year’s big winner has been streaming services, to which roughly half the UK’s households now subscribe.

Netflix, Amazon Prime and other paid services now grace 13.3 million homes in the UK – that’s 47% of all households. What’s more, the 2019 statistic marks a significant bump over last year: in 2018, 11.2 million households subscribed to streaming services, or 39% of UK homes.

The total number of UK streaming subscriptions sits at 19.1 million (up from 15.6 million last year), with many homes subscribing to more than one service. Options like Now TV – with its host of tailor-made passes – and Disney Life provide a more diverse range of shows, with customers’ loyalty to Netflix or Amazon Prime waning.

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This doesn’t signal the definitive end for traditional TV channels, which still account for 70% of TV-watching in the UK. Public service broadcasters (PSBs) like the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 also offer up over 100 times more original, homegrown shows than their big-budget streaming rivals, Ofcom reported. Content like Poldark, The Bodyguard and, of course, Love Island still bring viewers in their hordes, it seems.

The main five PSBs marginally increased their share of viewing, going from 51% in 2018 to 52% in 2019, with 75% of viewers saying they were “very” or “fairly” satisfied with the services. How much of that satisfaction we can attribute to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s creative output was not disclosed, but titles like Killing Eve and Fleabag certainly serve to pull in viewers.

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However, the rate of traditional TV watching is falling, with the 2019 average of 3 hours and 12 minutes marking an 11-minute drop-down from last year’s counterpart. Contributing significantly to this is young people (16-24s), whose rate of traditional TV viewing has halved since 2010. Long gone are the days we’d congregate around Tracy Beaker and Blue Peter; now it’s an episode or two of Transparent on the morning commute.

Ofcom also reported that young people are flocking to YouTube for free, increasingly high-quality content. The report divulged that 16-24s spend over an hour on the platform per day, averaging 64 minutes – a 5-minute increase from last year’s statistics.

Strategy and Research Group Director at Ofcom, Yih-Choung Teh, commented on the rapidity with which the UK’s viewing habits are changing. Streaming services were still in their inception seven years ago, and have since “grown from nothing to reach nearly half of British homes”.

That’s not to say there’s no place for public service broadcasting in the future: “Traditional broadcasters still have a vital role to play, producing the kind of brilliant UK programmes that overseas tech giants struggle to match,” Teh explained.

Hear, hear. With iPlayer transforming into a 12-month catch-up service and Netflix’s subscription fees creeping up, there’s never been a better time to go back to basics and revel in the world-class TV put out by public service broadcasters in the UK. And if that’s not enough to convince you, let’s not forget the time America tried to recreate The Inbetweeners – that should serve as a warning to us all.

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