TV viewing up despite rise of social media

Ofcom research shows U.K. TV viewing up 3% in 5 years

LONDON -- Television viewing is booming despite an assault on people's senses by the growing popularity of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Research published Thursday by media regulator Ofcom indicates that the U.K. remains a nation of goggle-eyes with viewers tuning in for an average of three hours and 45 minutes of television a day in 2009, 3% more than in 2004.

Ofcom's report says the uptick in small screen popularity comes on the back of the availability of digital video recorders (DVRs) and the advent of high definition television, now found in north of five million homes here.

Digital television passed the 90% threshold for the first time last year, with 92.1% of homes having digital TV by the first quarter of 2010. The average weekly reach of multichannel television exceeded that of the five main TV channels -- BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4 and Channel 5 -- also for the first time in 2009.

But despite the fact people love to watch, it wasn't all good news for the industry.

TV industry revenues fell slightly last year from 2008, hitting £1.1 billion ($1.7 billion) in 2009 as growth in pay TV subscription revenue failed to offset falling television advertising revenues.

The Ofcom report said the 0.4% year-on-year contraction is the first time the TV industry has shrunk since the regulator began reporting "on the size of the television market, as broadcasters contended with the impact of an economic downturn."

Net advertising revenue (NAR) was the worst hit of all revenue streams, down by £335 million ($524 million) in 2009 to £3.1 billion ($4.8 billion).

Good news for pay TV operators though. Revenues appeared comparatively unaffected throughout the last year. The pay TV sector posted a £319 million ($498 million) uptick in revenues in 2009 to £4.6 billion ($7.2 billion).

And that came in spite of the closure of Setanta Sports in June 2009, which paved the way for ESPN to launch a new premium sports subscription channel two months later. Ofcom noted that Setanta's shutdown and the off button for its bouquet of U.K. channels contributed to the first ever annual fall in the number of channels in Blighty, down from 495 at the end of 2008 to 490 in 2009.

The suggestion is that the fall in channel numbers indicates the multichannel market is reaching saturation point in the U.K.

Ofcom estimates that the amount of the BBC's revenue allocated to TV, the third biggest component of TV industry revenue, grew marginally in 2009, up by £41 million ($64 million) to £2.7 billion ($4.2 billion).