TV sets remain at the heart of viewing

In 2013, the average TV viewer in the UK watched a total of just over 3 hours, 55 minutes of TV a day. The overwhelming majority of this – some 98.5% – was enjoyed on a TV set.

The TV set is now and shall ever more be the nation’s favourite way to watch TV. According to the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB), in 2013 the average viewer watched 3 hours, 52 minutes a day of linear TV on a TV set. The terrific weather we enjoyed in 2013 and the lack of major sporting events explain why this is less than the year before when we clocked up 4 hours, 1 minute a day, but it is still 8 minutes more than we were watching a decade ago (if you include TV viewing on non-TV set devices we’re watching 12 minutes more than a decade ago). And, with a World Cup in 2014, viewing can expect a football-fuelled boost.

An average of 88.7% of the TV watched on a TV set in 2013 was watched live compared to 89.9% in 2012. 68% of TV set viewing was to commercial TV channels, meaning that the average person watched 2 hours, 33 minutes of commercial TV a day. Commercial TV as usual proved especially popular with younger audiences, accounting for 76% of the 16–34 age group’s viewing.

Despite the small drop in average viewing, commercial impacts during 2013 were up 1.6% on 2012, and have grown by 10.4% over the last five years. The average viewer watched 47 ads a day – four ads more a day than five years ago. Collectively the UK watched an average of 2.7 billion ads a day in 2013.

Playback is settling

In the estimated 59% of households that own a digital television recorder, 83.6% of TV on a TV set in 2013 was watched live compared to 84.4% in 2012. This continues the trend of recent years which has seen the level of non-live viewing settle around the 15-20% mark.


That 81% of all recorded viewing is played back within two days of recording and 47% is seen within 24 hours of recording shows viewers’ desire to stay as close to the live schedules as possible.

And it is important to note – lest you think time-shifting TV is an attempt to avoid ads – that there is no significant difference in the amount of commercial linear TV which is recorded compared with equivalent BBC channels. It’s also worth remembering that only ads watched at normal speed are counted by BARB and so paid for by advertisers. Ads which are speedwatched (which do have some value) are completely free.

Broadcaster VOD: small but beautiful

Broadcaster VOD accounts for 2.5% of total TV viewing, according to data from Ofcom and the UK broadcasters. This small but beautiful amount will grow but it is still in its relative infancy.

The average viewer in the UK watches approximately 6.5 minutes of Broadcaster VOD a day across all screens. This is based on an estimated 3 minutes, 12 seconds a day on a TV set plus 3 minutes 30 seconds a day watched on other screens, like tablets and smartphones, the majority of which is on-demand, although some is live streamed. A major challenge for the TV industry is measuring TV viewing across all devices, but BARB is grasping the nettle and later in 2014 will begin measuring all TV viewing in the home regardless of device.

So overall the average viewer watches about 6 half-hour TV shows a month via Broadcaster VOD. But this is increasing: Ofcom in its Communications Market Report 2013 found that unique programming requests for Broadcaster VOD had increased by 21% between the second half of 2011 and 2012.

As with all types of TV, the TV set is the favourite place to watch VOD. Ofcom breaks Broadcaster VOD consumption down as 42% via the TV set, 38% via PC/laptop, 12% on tablets and 9% via a smartphone. Of the non-TV set devices, tablets are the ones to watch as ownership continues to rise.

2013 TV Viewing

How much TV are we watching? Lots of it and on more screens and in more places than ever before. This is a golden age of TV and the viewing figures reflect how TV continues to be our favourite leisure pursuit.

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  • Here you can download a PDF of ‘A year in TV 2013’, Thinkbox’s review of what was an incredible year for TV. From the key numbers on viewing and advertising investment to creative, programming and planning highlights, this handy document is packed full of facts, figures and opinion, all of which we hope you find inspiring and useful. Please feel free to pass it on, if you do.