Shauna Lewis
Aug 4, 2023

Sharpest ever decline of linear TV viewers in 2022

For the first time, there has also been a significant decline in older audiences (65 and over) watching daily broadcast TV.

Ofcom Media Nations: BBC (20%) and ITV1 (13%) remain the top destinations for linear TV audiences
Ofcom Media Nations: BBC (20%) and ITV1 (13%) remain the top destinations for linear TV audiences

The number of linear TV viewers suffered its sharpest decline in 2022 since records began, Ofcom’s Media Nations has reported.

The proportion of viewers who watch linear broadcast TV went from 83% in 2021 to 79% in 2022, with the figures taken from 28-day consolidated viewings on a TV set.

Hourly time spent watching broadcast TV declined by 12%, from two hours 59 minutes in 2021 to two hours 38 minutes in 2022.

For the first time, there has also been a significant decline in older audiences (aged 65 plus) watching daily broadcast TV, with a 10% decline year on year.

On broadcast TV, 2022’s most popular programme was the Fifa World Cup: England vs France, which reached 16.1 million viewers. By comparison in 2021, the most watched programme was the Euros 2020 match: England vs Denmark, which reached 18.4 million viewers.

In 2022, the second- and third-most popular shows were Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral (13.2 million) and her Platinum Jubilee celebrations (13.2 million). I’m a Celebrity…Get Me out of Here also jumped from ninth to fourth place, with 11.1 million viewers in 2021 and 12.5 million in 2022.

Yih-Choung Teh, group director, strategy and research at Ofcom, said traditional broadcasters were seeing “steep declines”, with soaps and news programmes losing their “mass-audience pulling power”.

In 2022 the three most popular soaps – EmmerdaleCoronation Street and EastEnders – pulled in more than four million viewers on 438 of their episodes. This was a 72% decline on 2014, in which 754 of their programmes pulled in more than four million viewers.

Despite this, Teh added: “Public service broadcasters are still unrivalled in bringing the nation together at important cultural and sporting moments, while their on-demand players are seeing positive growth as they digitalise their services to meet audience needs.”

BBC (20%) and ITV1 (13%) were still the top two destinations for viewers when they turned on their TV. Broadcaster platforms, which included linear, TV recordings and on-demand services, maintained their 60% share of total video viewing.

Dan Ulzhoefer, chief executive at UI Centric, said: “Our own research into viewing habits also shows that the default behaviour – across age groups – is to search a selection of streaming apps before making an informed decision on what to watch, well ahead of switching to linear TV.

“This report is unlikely to surprise broadcasters – embracing these shifted viewing habits to on-demand is key to their continued relevance and they must evolve. Growth in their digital platforms is an encouraging start.” 

Netflix came behind BBC and ITV1 with 6% of audiences turning to it first on their TV and there is evidence of a slowdown in take-up of subscription video-on-demand, with 66% of UK households reporting using an SVoD service in Q1 2023, compared with its peak of 68% in Q1 2022.

Matt Hill, research and planning director at Thinkbox, said broadcasters remain the "bedrock" of the nation's media consumption and added: “The rebalancing between live and on demand viewing has been happening for over a decade as people of all ages change how they watch TV. But what’s clear is that the broadcasters’ pedigree and expertise in what UK viewers enjoy means they are well placed to thrive in the future.”

Social video platforms also remained a huge part of 15- to 24-year-olds' viewing habits. In March 2023, 5.2 million of this age group spent an average of 58 minutes on TikTok each day.

The report also noted the current success of commercial radio, also highlighted in today’s Rajars report, which showed that commercial radio reached 39.2 million people weekly.



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