Photo: ‘Multimedia Message‘ By rockcreek
Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services. As part of its legal obligations it has published annual into consumers’ use of media and communications for the last seven years. ‘The Communications Market’ survey involved 1138 adults aged 16 and over.
- Some of the headline features in the report are familiar developments of trends that were notable some time ago:
- Nearly a quarter of people (22 per cent) say they have bought a HD-ready TV set in the last 12 months.
- Some 31 per cent of households with internet access used it to watch online catch-up TV – up 8 percentage points over the year.
- The proportion of time-shifted television viewing has more than tripled since 2006, from 1.7 per cent to 5.9 per cent.
- Last year UK TV revenue as a whole contracted for the first time since 2003, down by 0.4 per cent to 11.1bn.
TV then clearly figures as a major focus point for this organization, not surprising as it is still dominant in the lives of so many people, playing some part in the media consumption of almost everyone. Underlying these observations of course is that bottom line figure on the economics of the TV industry which reflects a wider trend that continues to worry the communication industries (telecoms, TV and radio):
Overall communications revenues fell by 2% year on year to £52.8 billion as income in each of the three communications industries contracted during 2009. Telecoms revenue fell by 2.7% to £40.6bn, the first year-on-year fall in recent history; the reduction was driven largely by the first-ever reduction in retail revenues from mobile services (-3.5%). Despite growing revenue from subscription television services, TV revenues declined by 0.4% to £11.1bn, reflecting a 9.6% contraction in net advertising revenue to £3.1bn. Radio industry income also fell over the year, by 4%, to £1.09bn, driven largely by commercial radio revenues falling by 11.5% to £432m. (Communication Markets Report, 2010, p. 17).
One aspect of the report which featured prominently in Ofcom press releases and picked up by media outlets concerned digital media usage in an analysis of ‘The consumer’s digital day’ (section 1.3, p. 23 ff. in the report). The basis for this analysis was that while Ofcom subscribes to a wide range of industry research such as BARB for television, RAJAR for radio, and Nielsen NetRatings for internet usage this offered limited insights. Individually, industry research allows some understanding of broadcast media consumption and web site usage: ‘However, there is little in the way of insight into how people use media and communications devices together and the relationship between them.’ (p. 23).
The key findings in this respect are summarized thus:
Nearly half of people’s waking hours are spent engaging in media and communications activities. The average person spends 15 hours 45 minutes awake per day, and seven hours and 5 minutes of this time is spent engaging in media and communications activities, amounting to 45% of waking hours (page 30).
People spend about seven hours a day consuming different media, but they squeeze more into this time by media multi-tasking. A fifth of the seven hours and five minutes of media activity is spent using more than one form of media at the same time. This allows people to squeeze in more media and communications activity into the time – on average 8 hours 48 minutes. The amount of time that 16-24s spend consuming media is lower than older age groups (6 hours 35 minutes). But 29% of their time with media is concurrent; the result is that they use more media and communications than any other age group, fitting 9 hours 32 minutes’ worth of activity into this time (page 31)
Some of this aspect of the report is represented graph form by Ofcom which sets media usage throughout the day against other activities.
Findings such as these prompt reflections on the way in which communication media are so thoroughly integrated into our lives as to make the modern world one defined by media technologies, content and modes of cultural consumption.
For media scholars, reports like this might aid our arguments about the relevance of what we do in all its guises, particularly as this modern mode of living has prompted some rather worried responses that hint at a moral panic that, in its essential state, has waxed and waned since the advent of the modern mass media.
Opinion and concerns have been expressed about the very fact of media consumption that takes place to the extent revealed in this survey which suggests that it is not a secondary form of activity but one which defines social activity. In addition, the very idea of ‘multi-tasking’ over several media forms over such extended periods prompts concerns about attention span, ‘dumbing-down’, the decline in literacy (at least as defined by reference to the book) and so on.
Other than examining the terms of responses to such reports (how have its insights been generated, how have they informed the interpretations of those who have reported it?), we could use such data a springboard for further qualitative research. Given the absences noted in the industry-generated research, and a tendency for commentators to leap to conclusions about the majority, we could develop Ofcom’s insights perhaps by examining what people actually do when they multi-task. How do people manage different media? How do they work at a cognitive level to manage and make sense of the flow of information they receive and generate?
Either way, the starting point is to read the report and generate your own questions, observations.
1. What kind of responses were generated by the Ofcom report? (e.g. read this BBC article). How were the findings reported and how did various media reports use its evidence?
2. What is your own response to the report? What other avenues of investigation does it prompt for media scholars?
3. How would you evaluate your own media use? When and where do you multi-task? How do you manage your media use over the day?
A blog by author Paul Long.