Television

Ofcom media consumption report feeds our digital anxieties

By: Vicky Sargent @vickysargent
Published: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 - 13:37 GMT Jump to Comments

Broadcast TV viewing is down 4% but only three percent of 16-24 yr olds give a damn, too busy risking obesity and diabetes by averaging 14 hours of media activity a day. Meanwhile, marketeers can't work out which way is up...

The Ofcom report, for those of you unfamiliar with it, provides a comprehensive (400-odd pages) picture of a UK media landscape that is changing at breakneck speed. Time spent watching TV or consuming any other media? Most popular social media channels? Proportion of households with broadband, laptops and other devices? Percentage of people who say technology isn’t changing their lives? Its all pretty interesting stuff.

Many headlines focused on results of Ofcom’s Digital Quotient or ‘DQ’ test, which show that if you are over 45, pretty much any six year-old can beat you at digital. By the same test, 14 and 15 year olds were identified as the most technology-savvy age group in the UK, while more than 60% of people aged 55 were revealed to be below average when it comes to confidence and knowledge of communications technology.

Readers of IT sector scourge The Register (tagline ‘Biting the hand that feeds IT’) showed their age and anxieties (and probably gender) by responding in numbers to a story headlined ‘UK kids better at tech than Mum and Dad’. Those comments that weren’t focused on how rubbish their offspring were at setting up their own tech pointed out in several different ways that ‘Using pre-made services doesn't represent a skill’. Unlike, one assumes, setting up an Acorn computer in the good old days…

A more considered response to the ‘techie teenagers rule’ line was taken by digital inclusion leader Helen Milner, whose Tinder Foundation runs the UK Online Centres. Her anger is palpable, though, as she criticises the way the media covered the report, including ‘a simplistic discussion on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme’ that reminded her of ‘those awful meetings where people tell me digital inclusion is not worth worrying about as all young people know everything about the internet and they’ve all got smartphones, and we just have to wait until all the older offline people die.’

Milner went on to make the point (like the Register’s correspondents) that ‘using technology isn’t the same as knowing what it means to use it – skills aren’t the same as knowledge, digital society isn’t the same as 3D printers and Smart Watches. Being a person is about thinking, creating, communicating, building things – it’s not about clicking and gadgets.’

The BBC’s coverage of the report quickly homed in on the health effects, particularly on young people. Thanks to multi-tasking, it seems that the 16-24 age group are squeezing 14 hours and 7 minutes of media activity into each day. Child psychologist Dr Aric Sigman was quoted saying: "We need to think of recreational screen time as a form of consumption in the way that we think of sugar, fat, alcohol, hours in the sun - measured in units of hours per day," pointing out the links to obesity and diabetes.

Changing media habits are worrying for the marketing industry. The Drum, which claims to be the UK's most visited marketing news website, headlined ‘the harsh reality for marketers: we're striving for a few minutes of attention at best’.

A piece written by digital marketing agency director Jon Davie reviews ongoing trends like the shift from traditional to digital media, the decline in fixed landlines, and the move from desktop to mobiles and tablets, before concluding that: ‘if the average Joe is consuming 11 hours of media each and every day, they don’t have much time left to enjoy our carefully crafted communications... in a world with so much noise, it’s harder than ever to achieve cut through... someone in the process needs to ask the tough questions: Why would anyone care about this content? And why would anyone share it?’

PR Week took a similar line, quoting Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ technology practice director Charlie Morgan, saying that "Agencies must evolve very quickly and learn to communicate in the right way," with evolution in the public’s consumption of content meaning that PRs must play to the consumer’s desire for a personal experience across different platforms, continuing: "Consumers don’t just want information. Ultimately they want to discover the story in a way that seems like it has been made for them, and the aim is to allow these consumers to discover this story in multiple ways."

The drop in live TV viewing by 4%, and even more so the fact that a growing number of younger viewers are watching DVDs, online catch-up services and downloadable programmes, none of which require payment of the £145.50 a year TV licence fee, should be ringing the alarm bells for the BBC, according to the blog TV Licensing.

Furthermore, they say, only 3% of the 16 to 24-year-olds surveyed said they would miss watching live broadcast TV programmes, compared to almost a third of those aged 65 and over. Food for thought, but worth noting that the TV Licensing blog describes itself as existing to ‘highlight the unjust persecution of legitimate non-TV users at the hands of TV Licensing’ and that the Daily Mail ran a story taking a similar line.

The books and reading lobbies are less alarmed by the Ofcom findings, according to a piece by Alison Flood in The Guardian, picking up on the fact that the average number of books owned by UK adults is 86, with the largest collections held by the 55-64 age group (118) and the smallest by 16-24-year-olds, with an average of 50 books each. This compares to e-book collections, which for all adults average at 19.

A bullish Viv Bird, chief executive of reading charity Booktrust, was quoted saying that the 9% drop in UK adults having a physical book collection was more than made up for by the increase in digital book sales, which she said (figures from the Booksellers Association) now represent 16% of total book sales. The article went on to quote a number of other authorities saying that digital platforms were in fact ensuring that people are reading more than ever, with digital simply changing the ways we are consuming written content.

Journalism.co.uk focused on a significant switch in digital news consumption from desktop and laptop to mobile, referring to Ofcom’s finding that of ten newspapers surveyed, only The Telegraph, The Daily Mirror and Metro has seen growth in audiences from laptops or desktop computers in the last year. Metro had also increased its mobile audience, having launched a mobile-first strategy, a more responsive and swipe-friendly website, and the succinct, topical content that mobile readers want.

Meanwhile the BBC, by far the most popular brand for mobile news, gained 1.3 million mobile users in the year up to April 2014 - the largest numerical increase among those surveyed.

OFCOM REPORT GO HERE

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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