Disney+ launched its service on the first day of the UK lockdown © Anthony Brown/Alamy

The BBC and ITV are losing ground to big US streaming services post-lockdown, with new viewers sticking with Disney+, Amazon and Netflix even as audiences for traditional broadcasters fall to more normal levels. 

The annual report on viewing habits by Ofcom, the UK’s media regulator, noted the dramatic inroads made by streaming services since the coronavirus crisis, with sign-ups rising by 12m and overall viewing time doubling.

The accelerated shift to online viewing was particularly marked with younger people. Under 34s watched almost six and a half hours of audiovisual content — a more than 40 per cent increase during lockdown — including two hours of streamed content every day.

Crucially as broadcast television viewing time fell sharply in June, following the easing of movement restrictions, subscription services retained almost three-quarters of the extra viewing time they had gained during lockdown. 

While broadcasters enjoyed some success on their streaming services — such as iPlayer, ITV Hub and All4 — the services claimed only a minute more viewing during April, while over the same period subscription services rose by 37 minutes.

Disney+, which launched its service on the first day of the UK lockdown, was used by 16 per cent of all adults online and about a third of homes with children aged 3-11. 

Within months, it became the third most popular adult streaming service — overtaking Sky’s Now TV — and became more popular with younger children than the BBC iPlayer, which suffered a decline in use.

While Ofcom noted a huge rise in audience figures for public service broadcasters [PSBs] as people sought news in the early days of the pandemic, it described the gains as “short lived”. By June 2020 the combined viewing share of PSBs — such as the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 — had fallen to 54.6 per cent, its lowest level since August 2019.

“Lockdown led to a huge rise in TV viewing and video streaming,” said Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s strategy and research group director. 

“The pandemic showed public service broadcasting at its best, delivering trusted news and UK content that viewers really value. But UK broadcasters face a tough advertising market, production challenges and financial uncertainty. So they need to keep demonstrating that value in the face of intense competition from streaming services.”

Noting the “especially tough” environment for commercial public broadcasters, Ofcom estimated television advertising revenues would fall by 17-19 per cent in 2020. 

“Channel 4 is likely to be the broadcaster hardest hit by the pandemic, owing to its reliance on advertising revenue and its lower access to liquidity compared to ITV,” Ofcom concluded.

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