Young adults in Britain spend more time browsing the social media site TikTok than watching broadcast TV, according to an Ofcom report on Wednesday that highlights the growing generation gap in media habits.
In its annual survey of consumption trends, the Norwegian Media Authority found that those aged 16 to 24 spent an average of 53 minutes a day watching traditional broadcast TV, just a third of the level ten years ago.
By contrast, over-65s spent seven times as much time in front of channels such as BBC One or ITV, watching almost six hours of broadcasting a day – a figure that has risen since 2011.
The faster adoption of streaming services and social media among young people poses an increasing challenge for broadcasters as they try to cope with an economic downturn, satisfy their most loyal older viewers and invest to keep up with rapidly changing consumption habits.
Ofcom said the pandemic-driven increase in traditional TV consumption had largely fallen away, with time spent watching broadcasters – either live or through on-demand platforms – falling almost 9 per cent since 2020.
While public service broadcasters including the BBC and Channel 4 are well regarded by younger adults, their weekly reach is in steady decline with these age groups. In 2021, for example, less than half of 16- to 24-year-olds watched at least 15 minutes a week of programming on a public channel such as the BBC, ITV or Channel 4.
Meanwhile, the reach of subscription streaming services, such as Netflix and Disney Plus, and social video platforms, including YouTube and TikTok, have grown rapidly over the past decade.
A study for Ofcom by polling company Ipsos estimated that those aged 15 to 24 spent 57 minutes a day on TikTok alone. This is longer than the 53 minutes the 16 to 24 age group spend watching broadcast TV, according to a separate survey for Ofcom by BARB, an audience ratings agency.
The challenges of the looming recession are already becoming apparent, both for broadcasters and streamers.
Revenue at the largest subscription streaming services continued to grow rapidly in 2021, with an estimated 27 percent increase driven mostly by price increases. But the proportion of households paying for at least one service fell in the second quarter of 2022.
The pressure in the market has been offset by the fact that some families have shown greater openness to taking out more subscriptions. Around 5.2 million UK households – almost a fifth of the total – pay for all three of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus, at a cost of almost £300 a year.
Traditional television continues to host the vast majority of the most watched programs, including major sports competitions and hit dramas such as Line of Duty.
But broadcasters are struggling to keep up with US streaming rivals. While the BBC’s iPlayer has set new audience records, reaching 6.5 billion streams in 2021, it is still a long way behind Netflix, which last year received roughly 20 billion views.