The number of viewers tuning into traditional broadcast channels each week fell to 79% in 2022 – down from 83% the year before – according to research carried out by media regulator Ofcom.
The fall is an all-time low for linear channels which have also seen the average length of time viewers spend watching their content fall from 2 hours 59 minutes in 2021, to 2 hours 38 minutes in 2022 – a decline of 12%.
In addition, the number of programmes attracting more than four million viewers has halved over the past eight years, from 2,490 in 2014, to 1,184 in 2022. According to Ofcom, this trend is driven by “a steady decline in viewing figures for the three most popular soaps” as well as fewer people watching the main evening TV news bulletins.
However, it notes that “only 48 programmes averaged more than four million TV viewers on streaming platforms in 2022” and says BBC One (20%) and ITV1 (13%) remain the top two first destinations for viewers when they turn on their TV, followed by Netflix (6%).
Despite this continued lead, the regulator warns that, for the first time, there are signs “of a significant decline” in average daily broadcast TV viewing among audiences aged 65+ with a drop of 8% year on year.
While overall subscriber numbers appear to be stagnating, the research also finds that older viewers are “becoming more likely to take up streaming services,” highlighting how the proportion of over-64s subscribing to Disney+ has increased from 7% in 2022 to 12% in 2023.
Free catch-up players are also becoming increasingly important, with ITVX accounting for 10% of ITV’s total viewing in the first half of 2023 – up from 7% across 2022 – and iPlayer accounting for 18% of the BBC’s total viewing – up from 14%.
Despite the falls in viewing, Ofcom says its research suggests public perception of the public service broadcast channels (BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) “remains positive”.
Almost 70% of viewers saied they were satisfied with them overall and the number of viewers agreeing with they “broadcast events that bring the nation together” rose from 61% in 2021 to 65% in 2022.
Yih-Choung Teh, Group Director, Strategy and Research at Ofcom, said: “Today’s viewers and listeners have an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet of broadcasting and online content to choose from, and there’s more competition for our attention than ever.
“Our traditional broadcasters are seeing steep declines in viewing to their scheduled, live programmes – including among typically loyal older audiences – and soaps and news programmes don’t have the mass-audience pulling power they once had.
“But despite this, 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.”