Britons Gorge on Communications, Reveals Ofcom Report

11 August 2006

The UK media and telecoms industry is alive and well and living in Elysium, reports the nation's communications regulator Ofcom in its annual Communications Market Report 2006.

Even though only a fraction of the technology powering the communications revolution is manufactured within its shores, Ofcom hails the sector as one of the UK's most dynamic, representing 4.1% of national GDP and generating retail revenues which in 2005 topped £50 billion ($95.44bn; €74.06bn) for the first time.

Notes Ed Richards, Ofcom chief operating officer and Blair administration placeman: "Our research reveals dramatic and accelerating changes across all communications industries." These include . . .

  • Broadband Internet
    The number of households with broadband connections increased by 63% between 2004 and 2005, to a total of 9m and the number of households with digital television also increased by 18% between March 2005 and March 2006, to a total of 18.3m.

  • Cellphones
    Mobile phone usage increased, accounting for 31% of all call minutes (up from 28% in 2004 and 20% in 2001), and the number of households using their broadband connections to make low-cost or free Voice over Internet phone calls had risen to 1.8 million by the end of 2005.

  • Telecoms Costs
    Between 2004 and 2005 typical household telecoms costs fell by 5% (from £80/month to £76/month); the cost of a broadband connection faster than 1 Mbit/s fell by 60% (from around £41/month to around £16/month).

  • Media Consumption
       The Report reveals striking evidence that a new 'networked generation' is turning away from television, radio and newspapers in favour of online services, including downloadable content - used on multiple devices such as iPods and mobile phones - and participation in online communities.

       Television is of declining interest to many 16-24 year olds; on average they watch television for one hour less per day than the average television viewer. Of the television they do watch, an even smaller proportion of their time is spent viewing public service broadcasting channels, down from 74% of total viewing among this age group in 2001 to 58% today.

       Instead, the internet plays a central role in daily life; more than 70% of 16-24 year old internet users use social networking websites (compared to 41% of all UK internet users) and 37% of 18-24 year olds have contributed to a blog or website message board (compared to 14% of all UK internet users).

       Extensive use of the internet has also influenced 15-24 year olds' consumption of other media. Their radio listening is lower, by an average of 15 minutes a day compared to the wider population; additionally, 27% of those surveyed said they read newspapers less as a consequence of their online usage.

  • Radio Trends
       The gap between BBC and commercial radio audience share widened even further in 2005. By March 2006 the BBC led the commercial sector by a margin of 30%, up from 24% a year previously. When compared to 2001, when the margin was 13% in the BBC's favour, the gap has more than doubled.

       Total radio industry funding (including the BBC Licence Fee) fell by 2.2% during the year to £1.15 billion; the BBC's expenditure on its radio services now accounts for around 55% of total UK radio funding.

       DAB digital radio continues to grow in importance. For the first time, sales of DAB portable radios outstripped sales of analogue portable radios in 2005 (accounting for 54% of sales, up from 45% in 2004). Overall digital listening (including radio channels via digital television) accounted for 11% of all listening hours in 2005, compared to 6% in 2004.

  • TV Trends
       In an important change in habits, viewers in Freeview households now spend more time watching digital-only channels than any one of the five main public service broadcasting channels BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4 and five. However, the public service broadcasters' own digital-only channels (such as BBC3, ITV2 and More4) continue to grow their audience share, gaining nearly 6 percentage points of total viewing between 2001 and 2005.

       Subscription revenue remains the largest source of funding for commercial television, with 2005 revenues up by 8.5% to £3.9 billion for all pay TV services, £343 million more than total net television advertising revenues for the same period. Overall, television industry revenues increased by 4% year on year to more than £10.6 billion.

  • Online Trends
       Online advertising continues to grow in importance as a mass marketing medium, attracting significant revenues away from other media.

       Total online advertising revenues have increased almost eight-fold in real terms between 2001 and 2005 (from £0.17 billion to £1.3 billion per year). Online advertising revenue is now almost three times greater than radio advertising revenue (at around £0.5 billion, unchanged since 2001 in real terms) and over one-third that of television advertising revenue (£3.8 billion in 2005, up from £3.5 billion in 2001).

       Broadband continues to demonstrate significant growth. Of the 11.1 million UK homes and small businesses with broadband connections, more than three million were cable and eight million were DSL - the latter up from five million in 2004. Industry revenues from broadband access were up 70% year on year to £1.9 billion.

       These trends are likely to continue as new technology and new products expand choice and availability. Unbundled local loop services - where competing providers take responsibility for the customer's line to provide telephone, broadband, voice and television over the internet and video on demand services - are now available to 44% of the population, up from to 34% in 2005. The number of Wi-Fi hotspots across the UK also almost doubled over the year to June 2006, up from 8,500 to 14,600.

  • Telecoms Trends
       Mobile phones play an increasingly important role in consumers' daily lives. As many UK households now have a mobile phone as have a landline phone; and for the first time, the proportion of households relying on mobile phones exclusively (10%) is the same as the proportion who only use landline phones.

       Mobiles are becoming the preferred means of making calls in many households, including those with both mobile and landline phones. Some 31% of consumers surveyed now consider their mobile to be their main telephone, up from 21% in 2004. For the first time, none of those surveyed said they relied on public payphones for their main means of making and receiving calls, compared to 2% of consumers surveyed in 2004.

       Mobile industry revenues grew by 9.7% year on year to £13.1 billion, while traditional landline revenue fell by 7.5% to £10.1 billion.

       Consumers are increasingly willing to switch phone companies; nearly 34% of consumers now use a phone company other than BT for some or all of their landline services. As of March 2006 6.1 million lines used a carrier pre-selection provider for their calls (up from 4.9 million in March 2005). Of these, 2.9 million were Wholesale Line Rental customers (up from 1 million in March 2005) who no longer have a billing relationship with BT but instead pay an alternative provider for both line rental and calls. Additionally 4.5 million consumers use cable networks for their phone services.
Summarises Richards: "The sector is being transformed by greater competition, falling prices and the erosion of traditional revenues and audiences. A new generation of consumers is emerging for whom online is the lead medium and convergence is instinctive."

To view and download the complete Ofcom report click here.

Data sourced from Ofcom (UK); additional content by WARC staff