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UK streaming subs boosted by over 50% during pandemic with Netflix the big winner

BBC crime drama Line of Duty’s finale was the third most-watched show

The number of streaming subscriptions in the UK has soared by over 50% during the pandemic, with more than half of UK households paying for Netflix, according to a report by media regulator Ofcom.

The results reveal there were 31 million paid-for subscribers for streaming services in the UK, up from 20 million in 2019.

This meant that, by September 2020, three in every five UK homes (60%) were signed up to digital platforms, compared with 49% a year earlier.

The biggest winner was Netflix, with 52% of households holding a subscription for the streaming giant, meaning its customer base exceeds that of pay TV providers combined for the first time (48%).

Its programming also dominated the most-watched titles on subscription services in Q1 2021, with 29 of the top 30 most-watched shows coming from Netflix.

While Netflix does not often publish its streaming figures, Ofcom found that period romantic drama Bridgerton was its most-watched programme in the UK, reaching 7.39 million accounts, followed by true crime series Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, which attracted a UK audience of 6.28 million accounts.

However, tech giant Amazon had the largest content catalogue at over 41,000 hours, according to the report, followed by Netflix at around 38,000, while the combined catalogues of All4, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and My5 was 37,000 hours.

In total, by April 2021, streaming service providers were offering UK viewers a combined total of over 115,000 hours of content.

In terms of income, the main streaming services earned an estimated £2.11bn (US$2.9bn) in UK revenues during 2020 – a 28% increase in real terms on 2019’s £1.66bn and more than double their revenues in 2017 (£1.03bn).

As for UK linear broadcasters, the average time spent watching traditional networks was three hours 12 minutes, nine minutes more than in 2019. But this increase was entirely driven by people aged 45 and over.

Younger age groups continued to watch less broadcast TV in 2020, with people aged 16-24, for example, spending an hour and 17 minutes watching broadcast content – down from one hour and 21 minutes in 2019.

Overall, the net effect was a fall in broadcast TV’s share of all adults’ total viewing last year, from 67% in 2019 to 61%.

The most-watched programme so far this year on linear was the Euro 2020 soccer final with a combined audience of more than 22 million UK viewers on BBC1 and ITV, while the semi-final had the highest audience on a single channel at 18.3 million viewers on ITV.

Jed Mercurio’s BBC crime drama Line of Duty series finale was the third most-watched show with 16.4 million UK viewers, followed by ITV’s Oprah Winfrey interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at 14.9 million UK viewers.

Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s group director of strategy and research, said: “TV and online video have proved an important antidote to lockdown life, with people spending a third of their waking hours last year glued to screens for news and entertainment.

“The pandemic undoubtedly turbo-charged viewing to streaming services, with three in five UK homes now signed up. 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.”



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