The latest infrastructure report from telecoms regulator Ofcom reveals that the number of UK households with a television set fell for the first time over the course of 2013. Though the figure was only down slightly – roughly 300,000 – in combination with a number of other factors it suggests the shift away from broadcast TV towards online video might have finally have started in earnest.

The Ofcom report says the number of UK households with a TV dipped to 26.02 million by the end of last year and more recent figures from BARB, whose figures Ofcom is using, show that by the middle of this year showed TV owning hasn’t bounced back.

That number includes all varieties of television set (digital, terrestrial, broadband etc), and as the number of web connected TVs has risen the number of sets that can only pick up broadcast TV is falling faster. 

Going over the top

Another section of Ofcom’s report shows average time spent watching television has also decreased since 2012. That appears to be down to an increasing proportion of the UK population aged between 16 and 24 choosing to consume their long-form video content through over-the-top (OTT) services like Netflix and shorter videos on YouTube.

And while those services can be accessed through connected televisions they can also be accessed on tablets, mobiles and computers. Another report issued by Ofcom at the same time states that there’ll be an increasing demand for mobile video services in the coming years.

This doesn’t mean broadcast TV is on the way out, at least not yet. Ofcom says most OTT content is likely to be consumed as part of a hybrid delivery package, in which users also have access to more traditional TV. And their figures back that up – 70 percent of video content consumed daily is still live TV, compared to 10 total percent from OTT services (both paid-for and free). 

Publisher ramifications

Broadcast TV remains a hugely resilient form of media overall, but the falls in terms of time spent consuming broadcast TV and the overall decrease in the number of households that have televisions are evidence of a turning point.

Already it’s being forecast that digital ad spend is going to overtake television spend before 2020 as ad money follows audiences onto mobile video platforms.

Dedicated television sets are likely to be around for a while yet, and broadcast TV still looks a lot healthier than newspapers or magazines. But these latest figures are an indication that the web is finally starting to eat into the dominance of what is, for the moment, the dominant form of media in the UK.