This image released by Netflix shows Claire Foy, center, and Matt Smith, right, in a scene from "The Crown." The New York Times website recaps each episode of "The Crown" in text stories, but it goes the extra mile. Through the miracle of hyperlinks and its own "Times Machine" function, the site links wanderers to the paper's original reporting _ and its original pages in PDFs detailing numerous actual events covered in the series. (Robert Viglasky/Netflix via AP)
Shows such as 'The Crown' have boosted Netflix coffers © AP

Almost half of British homes now subscribe to online streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime in contrast to the “accelerating” decline of interest in traditional television, according to a report on viewing habits by the UK’s media regulator.

Ofcom said the proportion of people signed up to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sky’s Now TV and Disney Life “leapt” to 47 per cent this year, compared to 39 per cent last year, with many subscribed to more than one service.

Live programmes still took up the majority of viewers TV time but its share has been declining fast, the regulator said. Two in five of British adults with an online streaming subscription said they might not watch traditional television at all in five years.

“The way we watch TV is changing faster than ever before. In the space of seven years, streaming services have grown from nothing to reach nearly half of British homes,” said Yih-Choung Teh, strategy and research director at Ofcom.

The decline ramps up pressure on UK broadcasters as they scramble to compete for viewers following the aggressive push into the country by US tech companies such as Netflix.

Aside from the race to produce hit programmes, broadcasters have been revamping their own streaming services.

ITV and the BBC are launching a joint service, BritBox, before the end of the year. The BBC has also won approval to make programmes available for longer on its iPlayer after Ofcom said the move would help ensure it “remains relevant”.

“More people watch the BBC than US streaming services, as millions view both live broadcasts and watch on iPlayer,” the BBC said, adding the new iPlayer rules would make it better placed to battle slipping broadcast figures.

Julian Aquilina, researcher at Enders Analysis, said services like Netflix and Amazon were complementary to the traditional TV viewing habit of many viewers, adding that around half of UK homes still subscribe to pay-TV from companies such as Sky and Virgin Media.

“But the non-UK services are less regulated than the UK broadcasters — a significant factor behind their success, particularly among younger audiences,” he said.

While Enders estimated the amount of time spent watching TV by older people would maintain broadcasters’ overall share of viewing in the next few years, it added that people aged 16-34 would spend only about 40 per cent of their viewing time watching traditional TV by 2023.

Younger people would instead turn to ad-funded platforms, such as YouTube, an estimate backed up by Ofcom that found the average young Briton spends more than an hour a day on the Google-owned video platform.

The story is similar in the US, where a fifth of homes will have abandoned the hefty costs and advertising breaks of cable television by the end of next year, according to forecasts by eMarketer.

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