Though media companies are (rightly) concerned about the disruption to their strategies caused by audiences increasingly migrating to online content, research is showing that for consumers the division between types of content is blurred. While publishers and broadcasters see it as a conflict between two types of content – traditional and digital – increasingly platform agnostic consumers simply see ‘content’.

For broadcasters with a vested interest in keeping eyeballs glued to linear television screens, that’s bad news. Television ad spend remains strong – and is forecast to increase in 2015 – but the trend among young people to seek out video content elsewhere means that might not always be the case.

The latest report from Ofcom on public service broadcasting (PSB) in the UK makes it plain that although there have always been some differences between the way younger and older generations consume video, the gap is widening even more quickly than it ever has. It’s also clear from the report exactly what’s powering that increasing difference – the number of those young people who consider themselves ‘tech natives’, and who don’t use television as their primary platform for watching video:

“A generation gap is emerging between younger and older audiences, with significant differences in opinion, attitudes and habits towards PSB and television more generally. 

“[Tech natives] tend to be younger (typically aged 16-30) and use multiple sources of audio-visual content, often online. Less than half now think that the TV is their most important source for relaxing or entertainment.”


(Source: BARB and Ofcom)

It’s worth noting that the report finds that television is still the primary source for entertainment and informative content in the UK. It describes the relatively small drop in the average time spent watching television per individual from 241 minutes in 2012 to 232 in 2013 as evidence of ‘resilience’ on television’s part. 

But, as Ofcom also says in the report, those tech natives are increasingly platform-agnostic when it comes to what they watch:

“Audience research shows that the boundaries between offline and online experiences are less apparent, as people begin to access online content from a device that they are used to thinking of as offline (their television).

“Younger participants and the more tech-savvy discussed their behaviour in the terms of television content forming part of their overall consumption of media content, rather than online content forming a specific part of their television consumption.”

So while television viewing habits might be resilient (though there was an overall fall in each age group), it’s not always the content of the UK-based PSBs that tech natives are choosing to watch. As the following graph makes clear, a growing proportion of the population are turning to web-based services such as YouTube and Netflix.


(Source: Ofcom quant research)

The trends established among younger generations will inevitably become more pronounced across the whole population as time passes. And as pointed out in the report, 16- to 24-year-olds spent an average of 148 minutes a day watching TV in 2013, compared to 169 minutes in 2010. As that’s compared to an average of 232 minutes for all viewers, it suggests that the resilience of television is at best a temporary respite as those tech natives and younger viewers’ habits become more dominant.

Radio performance

Though it’s not said quite so starkly in the report, that trend is even more pronounced when it comes to how radio is consumed by those tech natives (who fall within the 16 – 30 age range) – they don’t.


(Source: RAJAR and Ofcom

The report, then, confirms what many established media businesses must have already known. Younger generations are increasingly blind to the platform on which they consume content, and more concerned with the content itself wherever it appears.  As the report says:

“While younger audiences have always watched less television than older audiences, our audience research suggests that the connected generation are watching increasingly less television, and that they may be taking these habits with them as they age.”