Disney+ Has Made a Splash in U.K. Amid Pandemic: Study

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"The new service attracted 16 percent of online adults by early July ... to become the third-most-popular subscription streaming service," says regulator Ofcom, mentioning 4 million adults users in early July.

The Walt Disney Co.'s Disney+ streaming service has made a splash in Britain amid the lockdown due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Disney+ launched in the U.K. on the first day of the country's lockdown and "made an immediate impact," according to a new report from media and communications regulator Ofcom. "The new service attracted 16 percent of online adults by early July, surpassing [Sky streaming service] Now TV (10 percent) to become the third-most-popular subscription streaming service behind Netflix (45 percent) and Amazon Prime Video (39 percent)."

The Ofcom report says that 13 million U.K. homes had a Netflix subscription as of the first quarter of 2020, with Amazon reaching 7.9 million. The report also mentioned that "at the beginning of July, an estimated 4 million U.K. online adults had used Disney+ in the past seven days." Online adults are people aged 16+ who are online.

Disney after Tuesday's market close had reported 57.5 million total Disney+ subscribers as of June 27.

Among children aged 3-11, Disney+ was used in 32 percent of homes by June, "overtaking BBC iPlayer, which saw use among these children fall from 26 percent to 22 percent during the spring," Ofcom said.

Its annual study of the nation’s media habits also found that 96 percent of Netflix subscribers, 91 percent of Amazon users and 84 percent of Disney+ subscribers among online adults in the U.K. were planning to keep their streaming subscriptions "in the months ahead." And 55 percent said they would continue to spend the same amount of time watching streamed content as they did during lockdown. 

Another one of the key findings of the Ofcom report is that the lockdown lead to a general surge in TV screen time, with adults saying they spent 40 percent of their day in front of a TV or streaming video screen during its height. Time on streaming services has doubled during the pandemic, with an estimated 12 million users signing up to new services, it found. Around 3 million of them had never subscribed to one before.

"As people across the U.K. followed official health advice to stay home during April 2020, they kept themselves informed and entertained by spending six hours and 25 minutes each day on average — or nearly 45 hours a week — watching TV and online video content, a rise of almost a third (31 percent)" over last year, the report said. "The biggest factor behind this increase was people spending twice as much time watching subscription streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video — one hour 11 minutes per day on average in April 2020. The trend was even more pronounced among 16-34 year-olds, who streamed for an average two hours each day."

British public service broadcasters (PSBs), including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and ViacomCBS' Channel 5, "briefly achieved their highest combined monthly share of broadcast TV viewing in more than six years in March (59 percent), driven by a demand for trusted news programs as the pandemic grew," according to the regulator's annual report. "Broadcasters’ video-on demand services have also seen some success in lockdown. Dramas Normal People and Killing Eve helped BBC iPlayer attract a record 570 million program requests in May 2020 — 72 percent higher than in May 2019."

But the boost to the PSBs’ audience figures during peak lockdown "was short-lived as the pandemic interrupted production of soaps, major sporting events and entertainment shows," Ofcom highlighted. "By June 2020 their combined monthly share of broadcast TV viewing fell to 55 percent, its lowest level since August 2019."

In addition, as lockdown measures eased towards the end of June, "the uplift in viewing to video streaming services and other non-broadcast content held steady, at 71 percent higher than the year before," the report noted. "In contrast, by the end of June, traditional broadcast TV viewing declined from its peak in early lockdown — falling 44 minutes to 3 hours 2 minutes per day. Broadcast TV viewing is now comparably lower than it was in 2014-2017, although it remains 11 percent higher than this time last year."

Concluded Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s strategy and research group director: "Lockdown led to a huge rise in TV viewing and video streaming. The pandemic showed public service broadcasting at its best, delivering trusted news and U.K. content that viewers really value. But U.K. broadcasters face a tough advertising market, production challenges and financial uncertainty. So they need to keep demonstrating that value in the face of intense competition from streaming services."