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Ofcom: PSB audiences hit highs and lows during lockdown

Ofcom has published its annual Media Nations report

Public Service Broadcasters in the UK achieved their highest combined monthly share of broadcast TV viewing in more than six years in March of this year, according to Ofcom’s annual Media Nations 2020 report.

The BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 saw a share of 59 per cent during March as viewers turned to linear programming for trusted news about the coronavirus pandemic.

Their on-demand services also saw record numbers with the BBC’s iPlayer receiving 570 million programme requests in May 2020 – 72 per cent higher than in May 2019. Similarly, Channel 4’s on-demand service, All 4, generated 30 per cent more views among 16-34s in the first two weeks of lockdown; and viewers spent 82 per cent more time on ITV Hub.

However, those highs didn’t last as long as the PSBs might have hoped. By June, their combined monthly share of broadcast TV viewing fell to 55 per cent, its lowest level since August 2019.

According to Ofcom, the outlook for commercial public service broadcasters PSBs is especially tough, as they manage cost-cutting measures amid financial uncertainty. The report states that their cumulative revenues declined by 3.5% per cent in 2019 to £2.2 billion, and TV advertising revenues are expected to fall 17-19 per cent in 2020.

Overall, viewers in the UK turned to their screens during lockdown, spending six hours and 25 minutes each day on average – or nearly 45 hours a week – watching TV and online video content – a rise of almost 31 per cent compared to last year.

Ofcom attributed this rise to people spending twice as much time watching subscription streaming services such as Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video – one hour 11 minutes per day on average in April 2020. The trend was even more pronounced among 16-34s, who streamed for an average two hours each day.

Average minutes of viewing per day by all UK adults across all devices during peak lockdown (April 2020)
The streamers

In terms of SVoD viewing, Ofcom found Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon attracted around 12 million new subscribers during lockdown, 3 million of whom had never subscribed before. It also found people spent twice as much time watching subscription streaming services – one hour 11 minutes per day on average in April 2020.

And, according to Ofcom, Disney Plus has overtaken Now TV as the third most popular service in the UK.


As lockdown measures began to ease towards the end of June, the uplift in viewing to video streaming services and other non-broadcast content held steady, at 71 per cent higher than the year before, said the report.

In contrast, by the end of June, traditional broadcast TV viewing declined from its peak in early lockdown – falling 44 minutes to 3 hours 2 minutes per day. Broadcast TV viewing is now comparably lower than it was in 2014-2017, although it remains 11 per cent higher than this time last year.

More than half of UK adults (55 per cent) said they intend to continue spending the same amount of time watching streamed content in future as they did during lockdown.

Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s strategy and research group director, said:“Lockdown led to a huge rise in TV viewing and video streaming.

“The pandemic showed public service broadcasting at its best, delivering trusted news and UK content that viewers really value. But UK broadcasters face a tough advertising market, production challenges and financial uncertainty. So they need to keep demonstrating that value in the face of intense competition from streaming services.”

An interactive version of Ofcom’s full report can be found here.