UK: Perspectives On The UK Television Sector 2012

Last Updated: 29 August 2012
Article by Deloitte Technology, Media & Telecommunications Industry Group

Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

Six billion hours. And that's in a quiet month. The amount of time the UK devotes to television continues to astound and perplex.

About 54.2 million people watch television in a given week, according to measured consumption data. This is equivalent to a reach of about 95 per cent of the population aged 4+.1 On a typical evening in the United Kingdom, at about 9pm, some 27 million people are watching television.2 If we add in an estimate of TV viewing that is not currently measured, that is programme viewing on computers, tablets and smartphones, and by the under 4s,3 in a busy month total TV viewing in the UK is equivalent to all the time spent on all social networks worldwide - some 6.5 billion hours.4

Exactly why television occupies so much of our collective time - about a quarter of our waking hours - has been the subject of much debate for decades. Many pundits have foreseen an imminent plummet in TV viewing.5 The arrival of new, more efficient ways of watching television, and perceived falling standards of programming, are among the factors expected to precipitate a fall in TV viewing. Pundits can be fallible: TV viewing volumes have remained stable.

Looking ahead, Deloitte's assessment is that a sharp, imminent plunge in TV viewing is unlikely.

Why people watch TV

The principal reason why people watch television in the quantities they do is because television provides a daily stream of high-quality but low-cost content, which is diverse and popular, engaging and relaxing. It is also sufficiently entertaining and informative that viewers are willing, in seeming perpetuity, to come back for more.6

As well as satisfying our needs for entertainment and information, television is also a key enabler of another fundamental human need - being social.

Not all of us watch TV purely out of choice. For some - likely to number in the millions - a motivation for watching TV is to fill time. As TV offers so many hours of content, all at the push of a remote control button, it is a popular choice (or fallback) for just passing time. TV's enduring and voluminous appeal is down to multiple factors. And as long as television continues delivering this and subject to no other medium being able to emulate TV's offer, it is likely to maintain - at our collective behest - its grip on our time. Only nine per cent of our survey respondents disagreed "strongly" with the statement "I cannot imagine my life without television"; 22 per cent of the entire sample and 26 per cent of 25'44 year olds agreed "strongly".7

High'quality and low'cost The emergence of civilisation went hand'in'hand with the development of the first forms of popular entertainment. Storytelling, contest and drama have always been core to entertainment, and in relatively recent years, television has been appropriated to deliver this entertainment. Entertainment has for millennia been professional, as talent is scarce and stagecraft expensive. Sharing the most precocious talent (actors and storytellers) and the best sets across as wide an audience as possible has long been the target business model. Television has extrapolated these dynamics, and through national and global distribution, enabled production budgets in the tens of millions of pounds to be shared among hundreds of millions of viewers.8

Television's huge reach enables its production costs, which can run into millions of pounds per hour, to be shared across millions of viewers. As television's reach is greater than most other media, it is hard for any other medium to compete with it.

When presented with a choice we tend to opt for higher quality outputs - hence the marked preference for professional TV productions over user-generated content. We also opt for lower prices. Television blends high production values with competitive pricing.

The relatively low cost of television also applies to the cost of television sets, which have fallen steadily over time. In the 1970s, businesses were built on renting television sets, which were otherwise unaffordable for millions. By 2011, the cost of a TV set was sufficiently low so that even though it was a non-World Cup year, 9.3 million TV sets were sold, equivalent to one new TV set for every three households in the UK.9 The purchase of new TV sets tends to encourage viewing.

Something for almost everyone

Television's diversity makes it highly inclusive.

Television offers an increasingly wide range of genres and programmes catering for the UK's diverse spectrum of tastes, stratified by an ever richer blend of nationalities and social classes. A small proportion of the population claims not to have a television, but for the other 98 per cent, television addresses, in various dosages, a need.

Television can deliver complex, but rewarding, Scandinavian thrillers that dominate dinner party conversations in select postcodes in North London.10 The same medium can deliver coverage of darts in high definition behind a pay wall, as well as a daily serving of soap operas watched by a faithful audience of millions. It is our trusted source of news, with news bulletins dominating the top 100 programmes watched week in, week out.11

Television can offer multiple variants of the same genre. The Million Pound Drop, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, University Challenge, Britain's Best Brain, Pointless and Cleverdicks are all examples of quiz shows, each appealing to different audiences.

Near 100 per cent reach multiplied by, for tens of millions of us, several hours of TV viewing a day adds up to over six billion hours viewing per month.

Engaging and relaxing

What people want from television is as varied as our population. For some, TV's primary role is to inform, via documentaries and the news. But the majority of us look to television as a primary way to relax.

At the end of a day we seek out entertainment that enables us to wind down while still being engaged. For over half of the population, TV is the "best way" of doing this (see Figure 2 for breakdown by age). TV's capacity to relax is higher among women: 57 per cent "strongly" or "slightly" agree with the statement "Watching TV is the best way of relaxing at home"; for men the proportion is 50 per cent.12

Television is the original social network

Humans are a highly social breed. The majority of us are happiest when in the company of others,indoors, outdoors, during leisure time or in offices. Many of us struggle without a regular dosage of social activity. Television often provides the motivation to gather with partners, friends, families and occasionally thousands of strangers.

Thus we use TV not just for the content, but also as a justification for being with others.

Television's ability to bring the family together is particularly noted by younger age groups: two'thirds of 16'18 year olds we polled agreed "strongly" or "slightly" with the statement "Watching TV is a good way of bringing the family together" (see Figure 3).

As we accrue devices, watching television together is likely to take on a new twist. In families with multiple devices, we may end up watching different programmes from the same sofa.

The social nature of television is reinforced by the tendency for TV viewing to be greater when programmes are watched with others. Most entertainment tends to be consumed collectively, whether watching sports or enjoying comedy, with just one other person, or tens of thousands.13 The preference for watching in company is strongest among the youngest age groups (see Figure 4).

The proliferation of social networks and high penetration of Instant Messaging (IM), email and other forms of digital communication, add to the social nature of television, through enabling discussion of what's watched across multiple households anywhere in the world.

Millions of people are not seeking the most productive way of watching Television

A commonly heard lament is that we are all working longer hours than ever, we therefore have less spare time than ever and we have even less time for television. For such individuals personal video recorders (PVRs)14 and on-demand access to television are no doubt a major boon.

While those observations may be applicable to some, they may not be typical of the average citizen, who might not be looking for every technological means of optimising TV consumption. It is not everyone's aim to pack as much TV as possible into allotted viewing time. The 55+ represent a third of the UK population aged over 16; older generations tend to watch the most television. Unemployment levels may also be an influence.15

In our survey, about 12 per cent agreed "strongly" with the statement that "I watch television as it's better than doing nothing".16 A further 36 per cent agreed "slightly" with the statement.17


1. For the week of July 2 to July 8, BARB measured an estimated viewing audience of 54.2 million, equivalent to 94.45 per cent reach, based on those aged 4+. Average daily reach that week was 44.4 million, equivalent to 77.5 per cent reach. Source: Weekly Total Viewing Summary, BARB, July 2012. See:

2. In 2011, the average weekday viewing audience for 9pm was 26.78 million. This is based on the population aged 4+. Source: Figure 2.43, The Communications Market 2012, Section 2: TV and audio-visual, Ofcom, July 2012. See:

3. 3-5 year olds in the US watch about 2 hours of television a day. 59 per cent of children aged under 2 regularly watch over an hour of television a day. Source: TV has negative impact on very young children's learning abilities, Medical News Today, 6 July 2005. See:

4. In October 2011, comScore estimated that the total time spent on all social networks worldwide was 6.7 billion hours, representing about 20 per cent of all time spent online. See: People Spent 6.7 Billion Hours on Social Networks in October, comScore, 4 January 2012. See: . In the same period - October 2011, the average weekly viewing per person was 28 hours and 21 minutes, implying 113 hours of monthly viewing per person. The average population aged 4+ during the period was 57.59 million people. Thus, time spent on watching TV in a month is approximately 6.5 billion hours. For average weekly viewing per person for October 2011, see: Barb Monthly Total Viewing Summary: ; for the average population aged 4+ during October 2011, see: Barb Monthly Universe Summary:

5. The End of the Television, Technorati, 11 February 2012. See: Life after Television, George Gilder, 1994. See: ; Let's Just Declare TV Dead and Move On, TechCrunch, 27 November 2006. See: ; Internet downloads could see the end of television by 2012, Mail Online, 7 October 2008. See:

6. For a detailed analysis of why people watch television, written in 1988 but whose core analysis remains intact, see: Television and its Audience, Patrick Barwise and Andrew Ehrenberg, 1988

7. Deloitte/GfK, June 2012, table 33. Sample: all respondents (4,006 respondents, nationally representative).

8. The cost per episode of major UK productions can be up to £1 million. US shows can cost considerably more with talent costs being a major factor. Source: British TV drama such as Downton Abbey and Titanic will sink without tax breaks, Guardian, 18 March 2012. See ; Source: HBO lays a big-bucks bet on €ÜBoardwalk', Variety, 7 August 2010. See: ; Source: Plum Role: History's Ultimate Godfather, The New York Times, 25 March 2011. See:

9. Source: The Communications Market 2012, Section 2: TV and audio-visual, Ofcom, July 2012. See:

10. This article heralds the roster of "intelligent and creative television" and notes how a television series can generate "much intellectual buzz and frisson". Source: The small screen gets better, Gillian Tett, Financial Times, 29 June 2012. See:

11. In the week commencing 25 June 2012, television news bulletins filled 27 of the top 100 programmes. Source: Top 100 network programmes, Broadcast, 5 July 2012. See:

12. Deloitte/GfK, June 2012, table 30. Sample: all respondents (4,006 respondents, nationally representative).

13. Based on discussions with industry executives.

14. In some markets Personal Video Recorders (PVRs) are also known as Digital Video Recorders (DVRs)

15. In many developed countries, including the UK, unemployment levels have risen over the last five years. In June 2012, the number of those unemployed for over a year was at its highest level since 1996. Among those working part time, according to official data, 1.42 million people are doing so because they cannot find full-time work. Surprise fall in UK unemployment, Financial Times, 16 May 2012. See:

16. Deloitte/GfK, June 2012, table 41. Sample: all respondents (4,006 respondents, nationally representative).

17. Deloitte/GfK, June 2012, table 41. Sample: all respondents (4,006 respondents, nationally representative).

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