UK Media Trends: Subscription Revenues Beat Adspend

13 August 2004

British leisure activities are changing as consumers spend more time and money on electronic media and communications services; and for the first time ever in the UK, subscription revenues for the TV industry exceed those raised from advertising.

These are some of the findings of a new report from media regulator Ofcom that focuses on spending and viewing trends within radio, television and telecommunications sectors.

Publication of The Communications Market 2004 study follows a similar recent US survey [WAMN: 03-Aug-04] that came to the same conclusion.

The Ofcom report found that in 2003, advertising revenues for the TV sector rose by just 3% to £3.24 billion ($5.93bn; €4.84bn). By contrast, subscription revenues soared ahead by 11%, exceeding ad revenues for the first time at £3.3bn.

As greater competition brings down prices and consumers are presented with more choice in the range of available services, usage and expenditure on media and communications is rising with four per cent of household income allocated to the sector.

The last four years have seen the average household listen to more radio (an extra 2.3 hours a week), watch more TV (an additional half an hour a week), send more text messages (up by four times), make more telephone calls (a rise of at least fourteen minutes a week) and spend more time online (over a fivefold increase). And some of these activities are even performed at the same time.

Ed Richards, Ofcom's senior partner, strategy and market developments, puts the changes down to "the extent to which the UK is becoming a digital nation, with widespread availability of digital networks of all kinds … increased consumer choice and greater innovation."

Digital television was the area of greatest growth, with BSkyB running the most popular dTV service with 7.4m paying customers.

Consequently, total dTV revenue nearly equalled that of the five main UK terrestrial channels, even including the BBC's licence fee.

Ad revenues of the top commercial analogue TV channels slumped by 4% in real terms as they struggle to recover from the dotcom crash in 2000 and fallout from the September 11 terrorist attacks.

However, the beginnings of a recovery in the advertising market were reported as broadcasters received a 3.5% rise in revenue in 2003 to £3.58bn, mainly from growth in local commercial radio.

Other findings of note include:

  • Telecoms consumer revenues from cellphone calls exceeded those from fixed line calls for the first time.


  • A decrease in traditional public service broadcasting such as religion, arts, classical music and current affairs programming.


  • Radio is leading the way in communications convergence as it becomes available through dTV, cellphones, online and on digital radio platforms.


For more information on the Ofcom report, click here.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff