Half of waking hours spent using media and communications

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Consumers spend almost half of their waking hours using media and communications Consumers are spending almost half (45 per cent) of their waking hours watching TV, using their mobiles and other communications devices, new Ofcom research revealed today.

They are now sending four times as many texts per day than in 2004, spending almost a quarter of their time on the internet on social networking sites and spending 3 hours and 45 minutes per day watching TV.

They are also using several types of media at the same time – with the average person cramming 8 hours 48 minutes of media into just over seven hours during the average day.

The growing popularity of smartphones – and the changing way we use our mobiles – is increasing our overall use of communications, and helping us do much more simultaneously. This is being particularly driven by the under 25s. However, the over 55s are catching up, with half now having broadband at home – the fastest growing age group.

But while we are doing more, it is costing us less. For the fifth year in a row, spending on communications services has decreased. Ofcom’s annual Communications Market Report into the UK’s TV, radio, telecoms and internet industries shows that real household monthly spend on communication services fell 9.4 per cent over the past five years to £91.24, as more people choose to buy their services in discounted bundles.

The report also shows that traditional media is far from dead, with TV retaining a central part in our lives, particularly in the evening.

Peter Phillips, Ofcom Partner, Strategy & Market Developments, said: “For the first time we can see just how central media and communications are to our lives – on average we use them for nearly half our waking hours.

“Increasingly, mobile devices – especially smartphones – are used for multi-media, but live evening TV still remains the main entertainment event of the day.

“Younger people have shown the biggest changes in how we use media – particularly using different media at the same time. But the divide between younger and older people’s use of technology is starting to narrow as more older people are getting online and finding that things like email are very important to them.

“Consumers are using communications services more – phone calls, texting and the internet. Yet they are paying less despite getting more, partly through buying in bundles.”

Media multi-tasking – where, for example, someone makes a phone call while surfing the internet – now accounts for one fifth (20 per cent) of all media consumed throughout the day and the younger the person, the more this happens.

Among 16-24s, almost a third (29 per cent) of their media activity is simultaneous, compared to just over one eighth (12 per cent) for people aged over 55.

UK consumers are now generally using a single device – typically their mobile phone – for more than one type of media and communications use.

There has been a surge in smartphone ownership, with growth particularly strong over the last year, up by 81 per cent from 7.2 million users in May 2009 to 12.8 million in May 2010. In June 2010, over a quarter of people in the UK (26.5 per cent) said they had a smartphone, more than double the number two years previously.

In the first quarter of 2010 nearly a quarter of adults (23 per cent) accessed content or sent emails on their mobile phones, up from 20 per cent in the first quarter of 2009. Among 15-24s this rises to 45 per cent.

Surfing the internet via mobile phones is the fastest growing mobile media activity with 1 million new users during the first quarter of 2010 (taking the total to 13.5 million, compared to 9 million in the first quarter of 2009).

Facebook was the most popular mobile internet site in terms of time people spend on it, accounting for almost half (45 per cent) of total time spent online on mobiles in December 2009. And a fifth (20 per cent) of time 16-24s spend social networking is on a mobile.

UK consumers sent a record number of texts (104 billion) in 2009 – equivalent to 1700 for every person in the UK (up 25 per cent on 2008 and 290 per cent on 2004).

Households are consuming more communications and media: more voice calls, more texts, more data and more TV viewing. Yet communications spend now accounts for a lower proportion of total household expenditure (4.4 per cent in 2009 compared to 4.6 per cent in 2008) and overall household spend on telecoms services has fallen by over 17 per cent in real terms in the last five years.

The trend to buy communications services in bundles has also grown significantly over past five years. Half of all UK households (50 per cent) now buy two or more services from a single provider compared to 29 per cent in 2005. Seventy per cent of people with a bundle said that the main reason for taking one was because it was cheaper.

The recession also led to a change in consumer opinion about the deals operators offer. Eighty-eight per cent of consumers believed that at least one operator was offering better deals than they were 12 months ago. Only 13 per cent thought that no providers were offering better deals compared to 25 per cent a year ago.

Consumers are also now more likely to use online shopping to search for better deals. Just over half (53 per cent) of respondents with broadband access agreed they were more likely to use the internet to shop, while 61 per cent say they now use price comparison websites more frequently.

UK Key Market Developments

2009 saw a large increase in data use. Total data volumes over the UK’s internet infrastructure increased by 68 per cent and data volumes over mobile networks increase by 240 per cent.

Voice calls per person increased by an average of 1.6 per cent a year since 2004, to 11 hours and 12 minutes a month in 2009.

Time spent on fixed internet has increased by over two-thirds since 2008 with adults spending 14 hours and 12 minutes per month on the internet in 2010 compared with 8 hours and 18 minutes per month in 2008.

Broadband speeds increased – but so has the gap between advertised and actual speeds. Average actual speeds increasing from 4.1Mbit/s in April 2009 to 5.2Mbit/s in May 2010. However, this represented just 46 per cent of the average ‘up to’ advertised speed. Nearly half the population have access to superfast broadband, but fewer than 0.5 per cent of households had subscribed by the end of 2009. Research in June 2009 found that the average UK mobile broadband speed was just under 1Mbit/s.

Younger people switch to mobile broadband. Take-up of mobile broadband increased by 8 percentage points among those aged 15 to 24 and by 3 percentage points among 35-54 year olds. This suggests that younger age groups may be switching from fixed to mobile broadband (and driving overall mobile broadband growth by doing so), while increasing fixed broadband take-up among older consumers has offset the resulting fall in take-up among younger people.

Total retail telecoms revenue fell for the first time. Operator-reported retail telecoms revenue declined by 2.6 per cent in 2009 to £30.4 billion. This was driven partly by the economic downturn plus the first year-on-year fall in mobile voice revenues (down 3.5 per cent) due to an increasing amount of bundled voice minutes and text messages included in line rental charges and an increase in SIM-only tariffs. This was combined with a small fall in fixed-line internet an acceleration in the decline in fixed-voice revenues

The Communications Market Report website can be found here: www.ofcom.org.uk/cmr.