Britons have become a nation of binge viewers with most now watching multiple episodes of their favourite shows in a single sitting.
Media watchdog Ofcom’s annual review also reveals stark differences in how older and younger people watch television.
Eight in ten adults in the UK (79%) – or 40 million people – use catch-up technology such as BBC iPlayer, or subscription services such as Netflix, to watch multiple episodes of a series in one sitting. One third (35%) do so every week, and more than half (55%) do it monthly.
Most binge viewers (70%) find this type of viewing relaxing and enjoyable, and for others it’s an opportunity to discuss with friends (24%). But around a third (32%) of adults admit the temptation to watch another episode has cost them sleep and left them feeling tired.
Bingeing is most popular among young people: more than half (53%) of those aged 12-15 enjoy weekly sessions, compared to just 16% of over-65s. For that older age group, more than half (59%) prefer a traditional release of one episode per week.
The trend has been driven, in part, by the availability of faster home internet speeds, a rise in the number of connected TVs, and increased take-up of smartphones and tablets.
For many binge viewers, the desire to keep up with programmes is driven by fear of someone spoiling a programme’s ending (25%). This can result in some (16%) feeling under pressure to keep up with the viewing habits of family or friends.
And for some, the days of being tied to the TV schedule are fading, as UK viewers take advantage of being able to watch whenever, wherever they like. More than a third of people watch TV on the move – while on holiday (24%), while commuting (16%) or even in the pub (7%).
Just over a half of people (51%) watch TV in their bedroom, while others watch in the kitchen (16%), the garden (9%) or the bathroom (9%).
For many, watching TV is now a solo activity. Two in five adults say they watch TV alone every day, and almost nine in ten watch programmes alone at least once a week. One third of people say members of their household sit together, in the same room, watching different programmes on separate screens.
Despite this, nine in ten people watch live TV every week, and family viewing is still an integral part of family life. Three in ten (30%) adults say their family still watches the same programmes or films together every day, while 70% do so at least once a week. Nearly seven in ten (68%) say watching TV can bring the whole family together for a shared viewing experience.
Ofcom’s research also reveals differences between the viewing habits of older and younger people, with the latter far more likely to take advantage of streaming services such as Amazon Prime.
However, BBC iPlayer is the most popular on-demand service with 63% of adults saying they use it, followed by ITV Hub at 40% and then YouTube at 38% and Netflix at 31%.
The public service broadcasters’ on-demand services, such as All 4 and ITV Hub, are popular with all age groups – 75% of young adults aged 16-24s, and 59% of over-65s, use these services.
Meanwhile, nearly six in ten (59%) over-65s prefer a TV series to be released in the traditional manner, week by week, compared to 40% and 36% of young people aged 12-15 and 16-24 respectively.
Lindsey Fussell, consumer group director at Ofcom, said: “Technology has revolutionised the way we watch TV. The days of waiting a week for the next episode are largely gone, with people finding it hard to resist watching multiple episodes around the house or on the move.
“But live television still has a special draw, and the power to bring the whole family together in a common experience.”
Sharenting – a modern dilemma
This year’s Communications Market Report also examines online habits – looking particularly at the sharing of images, and wide differences in people’s approach to online privacy.
It reveals that more than half (56%) of parents don’t indulge in ‘sharenting’, the common practice of sharing pictures of children on social media. Among those who do not share, the main reason (87%) is a wish to keep their children’s lives private.
In contrast, 42% of parents do share photos of their children, and half of these share photos at least once a month.
Of those parents who do share photos, just over half (52%) say their children are happy for them to do so, and eight in ten (84%) say they only share photos or videos their children would be happy with. A large majority (85%) of these parents say they are careful about who can access the material.
Understanding the privacy implications of sharing images is a critical media literacy skill, and some people are aware that, once they post an image, they no longer have control over it.
Half of people understand that an uploaded photo is difficult to delete because it may have been shared or saved by someone else, but 17% think it is easy to delete, and a further 16% didn’t know.
Older people are far less confident about using privacy settings than younger internet users. The large majority (81%) of 18-24s feel comfortable changing settings, but this falls to 37% of over-55s.
Most people are aware of other people’s privacy, with seven in ten (70%) saying they wouldn’t share photos of other people without their permission, and three-quarters saying that personal images should only be shared with friends or followers.
And six in ten (62%) people who post photos of themselves (‘selfies’) say they have ‘untagged’ themselves from someone else’s photos or videos of them.
Younger people are more relaxed about sharing photos. Almost two in ten (18%) people aged 18-24 don’t mind sharing with everyone, compared to just 5% of people over 35.
The power of self-image
More than a third (34%) of those aged 18-24 say the pictures they post and share most often are selfies – more so than landscapes/buildings (32%) and holidays (31%).
But among the wider population, holidays are still the most popular subject of online snaps (24%).
Most selfie-takers (71%) say it’s important to look their best in photos, and nearly half (47%) feel pressure to look good online. This is more common among young people aged 18-24 (77%), and significantly more so among women (82%) than men (58%).
Almost three-quarters (74%) are cynical about the photos that other people post. Seven in ten say other people’s photos offer a ‘rose-tinted’ view of that person, or make their life appear more exciting than it is. This view is strikingly high among younger people – 85% of 18-24s, and 88% of 25-34s, agree with it, compared to only 65% of over-55s.
Unfortunately, despite knowing that these photos might not be realistic, viewing these photos can have a negative impact. One third (32%) say looking at other people’s photos makes them feel that their life doesn’t match up, rising to more than half (53%) of 18-24s.