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UK Netflix subscriptions leapfrog Sky and Virgin in Covid lockdown year

Ofcom has published its annual Media Nations report into the UK’s media habits, and in a year blighted by coronavirus enforced lockdowns, it has some interesting insights into our changing viewing habits.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a year marked by weeks of enforced home time, interest in subscription video-on-demand services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video skyrocketed. The report says that our video consumption via such services nearly doubled in 2020 to an estimated average of one hour and five minutes every day, taking average daily screen time to five hours and 40 minutes. 

In all, video streaming subscriptions were taken up by 60% of UK households by the third quarter of 2020, which was a sizable increase on the 49% registered a year earlier. Crucially, more than half of UK households had an active Netflix subscription, leapfrogging the percentage that subscribes to pay-TV services like Sky or Virgin Media (48%). Though, of course, pay TV services likely suffered from social distancing measures, with engineers required to visit homes and physically connect people. 

Naturally, 2020 offered a set of unique circumstances, and it’s possible that this will represent a high watermark for the premium video streaming companies. 

“The pandemic undoubtedly turbocharged viewing to streaming services, with three in five UK homes now signed up,” said Ofcom’s group director for strategy and research, Yih-Choung Teh. “But with subscriber growth slowing into 2021 and lockdown restrictions easing, the challenge for the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Disney will be to ensure a healthy pipeline of content and keep customers signed up.”

Free internet streaming sites also enjoyed extra attention over the course of the year, with people spending an average of 41 minutes per day watching YouTube, and TikTok being accessed by 31% of adult internet users.

Not everything benefitted from the loss of control in our daily lives, however. Ofcom reports that the number of people listening to podcasts over the last year slowed – possibly due to the absence of commuting for vast swathes of people forced to work remotely. And despite half of British adults now claiming to own a smart speaker, music streaming largely remained steady with drops in certain age groups.

You can read the full Media Nations 2021 report here [PDF].

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