The Communications Market Report: United Kingdom

Techie teens are shaping how we communicate

A 'millennium generation' of 14 and 15 year olds are the most technology-savvy in the UK, according to a new Ofcom research, which shows that after our teens our digital confidence begins a long decline.

Teens born at the turn of the millennium are unlikely to have known 'dial-up' internet and are the first generation to benefit from broadband and digital communications while growing up.

The research - part of Ofcom's eleventh Communications Market Report - measures confidence and knowledge of communications technology to calculate an individual's 'Digital Quotient' score, or 'DQ', with the average UK adult scoring 100.

The study, among nearly 2,000 adults and 800 children, finds that six year olds claim to have the same understanding of communications technology as 45 year olds. Also, more than 60% of people aged 55 and over have a below average 'DQ' score.

It shows that we hit our peak confidence and understanding of digital communications and technology when we are in our mid-teens; this drops gradually up to our late 50s and then falls rapidly from 60 and beyond.

The study helps support Ofcom's duty to research the markets it regulates and better understand people's technology literacy.

Average 'Digital Quotient' score by age

As a result of growing up in the digital age, 12-15 year olds are developing fundamentally different communication habits than older generations, even compared to the advanced 16-24 age group.

Children aged 12-15 are turning away from talking on the telephone. Just 3% of their communications time is spent making voice calls, while the vast majority (94%) is text based - such as instant messaging and social networking.

By contrast, older generations still find it good to talk: 20% of UK adults' communications time is spent on the phone on average. While adults also embrace digital text-based communications, the traditional email is most popular (used for 33% of their time spent communicating) compared to just 2% among 12-15s.

We're communicating more than sleeping

It's not only younger teens that are making the most of digital communications technology. Ofcom's research shows that the communications habits of adults of all ages are shifting as they embrace newer services and take advantage of portable connected devices.

The average UK adult now spends more time using media or communications (8 hours 41 minutes) than they do sleeping (8 hours 21 minutes - the UK average).

But because we're squeezing more into our day by multi-tasking on different devices, total use of media and communications averaged over 11 hours every day in 2014. This is an increase of more than 2 hours since Ofcom last conducted similar research in 2010.

Since then, we're even better connected through superfast broadband and 4G mobile, and communicating on the move.

Among the adult population, it's the 16-24s who spend the most time on media and communications. They're cramming over 14 hours of media and communications activity into 9 hours 8 minutes each day by multi-tasking, using different media and devices at the same time.

Tied to our tablets and smartphones

Where computer use was traditionally dependent on desktop computers, tablet and smartphone devices are starting to dominate how we work and play. Over four in 10 households (44%) now have a tablet - up from a quarter (24%) a year ago.

Their ease of use and portability appeal to people across generations. More than a quarter (28%) of those over 55 now own a tablet and many use it as their main computing device.

While tablet use is spread across generations, smartphone ownership differs greatly by age. Almost nine in ten (88%) of 16-24s own a smartphone, compared to 14% among those aged 65+.

These young adults are glued to their smartphones for 3 hours 36 minutes each day, nearly three times the 1 hour 22 minute average across all adults.

Smartphone take-up has also continued to increase rapidly over the past year, up to six in 10 adults (61%), compared to half (51%) a year earlier. The growth in smartphone use in particular has contributed to people spending an extra 2 hours per day on media and communications since 2010.

Take-up of smartphones is almost on a par with that of laptops (63%) among UK households, while desktop PC ownership has dropped, from 44% in 2012 to 35% in 2014.

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: "Our research shows that a 'millennium generation' is shaping communications habits for the future. While children and teenagers are the most digitally-savvy, all age groups are benefitting from new technology.

"We're now spending more time using media or communications than sleeping. The convenience and simplicity of smartphones and tablets are helping us cram more activities into our daily lives."

 Introduction and Key Points 

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Glossary and table of figures

Internet use and attitudes: 2014 Metrics Bulletin

Fixed broadband availability in UK cities in 2013

watching tv

On average viewers watched 3 hours 52 minutes of TV per day in 2013, down by 9 minutes from 2012.

It was the first time since 2009 that TV viewing has fallen below 4 hours per day. 

The UK TV industry generated £12.9bn in revenue in 2013, up by £426m (3.4%) on 2012.

Spend on content by all UK TV channels in 2013 increased by 3.7% to £5.8bn. The increase was driven by higher spending by sports channels. 

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Some 90.4% of the adult population tuned into radio in 2013. 

Over the past six years the reach of radio has remained largely unchanged. 

Average time spent listening to radio per listener fell in 2013 by 6 minutes per day. The decline among those aged 15-24 and 24-34 has been the most rapid, but there are now signs of a reduction in listening hours among those aged between 55 and 64.

Digital platforms’ share of total listening has doubled since 2008. The share of listening via a digital platform has increased from 17.8% (Q1 2008) to 36.6% (Q1 2014). 

Total UK radio industry revenue was £1.18bn, down by 2.1% from 2012. Within this total, BBC expenditure fell by £4m while commercial radio revenue fell by £21m.

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using laptop

The number of adults with household internet access grew to 82%, a rise of two percentage points from March 2013. 

Fixed broadband increased by one percentage point to 73% in the first quarter of 2014, while mobile broadband rose three percentage points to 8% of UK households.

Music streaming is more popular than MP3s and music CDs among people aged 16 to 24.

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woman on phone

The number of superfast broadband connections increased by 58% to 6.1 million in the year to March 2014.

The proportion of all fixed broadband connections that were classed as being superfast increased by 9.2 percentage points to 26.7% over the same period.

4G services are now available on all four UK national mobile networks, and by March 2014 there were more than 6 million 4G mobile subscriptions. 

Data provided to Ofcom by the mobile providers show that 73% of UK premises were in areas with 4G coverage from at least one provider in June 2014.

There were 55 million UK mobile data connections at the end of 2013. The total number of mobile data connections increased by 6.5 million (13.3%) during the year. 

Total operator-reported telecoms revenues fell by £0.6m to £38.6bn in 2013.

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postbox closeup

Addressed mail volumes fell by 5.0% between 2012 and 2013 from 15.5 billion items to 14.8 billion items. There are now 5.8 billion fewer items in the market than in 2008.

For the first time since its introduction in 2004, the volume of access mail declined in 2013, falling by 0.6%. Access mail is mail that companies other than Royal Mail collect, sort and transport from bulk senders before handing it to Royal Mail for final delivery. In 2013, 49% of mail volume came from access agreements. 

Mail revenue increased for the third consecutive year, growing by 2.9% in 2013 to reach £7.5bn.

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