The UK has become a nation of binge viewers with eight in ten adults now watching multiple episodes of their favourite shows in a single sitting.
The findings are part of Ofcom’s annual Communications Market Report 2017, which reveals stark differences in how older and younger people watch television.
Eight in ten adults in the UK (79%) – or 40m 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.
Bingeing is most popular among young people: more than half (53%) of those aged 12-15 enjoy weekly watch-a-thons, 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.
More than seven in ten (76%) young people aged 16-24 use a subscription streaming service, compared to less than two in ten (19%) older people aged 65 and over.
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%, Netflix at 31%, Al l4 at 26%, Amazon Prime at 20%, My5 at 15%, Facebook at 16% and Sky at 12%.
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.”
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