Northern Ireland

Key themes

Take-up of communications services in Northern Ireland is similar to Scotland…

Take-up of communications services in Northern Ireland is higher than in Wales, similar to Scotland, and slightly lower than in England.

At 88%, fixed-line take-up in Northern Ireland is similar to England and Scotland (both 87%) and higher than in Wales (79%). Take-up of mobile phones is the joint highest in the UK: the same as England at 85% and higher than Wales (82%) and Scotland (81%). Broadband take-up in Northern Ireland (at 52%) is similar to Scotland (53%), higher than in Wales (45%) and lower than in England (58%).

However, digital TV take-up in Northern Ireland is, at 79%, lower than in England (86%), Scotland (85%) and Wales (84%).

Take-up of digital TV in rural areas of Northern Ireland was lower than in urban areas. (74% compared to 81%). However, take-up of fixed-line phones was higher in rural areas (94% compared to 85% in urban areas). Mobile phone (84% rural, 82% urban) and broadband (54% rural, 52% urban) take up were similar in rural and urban areas.

…and higher in the east than in the west

New survey data this year allow us to see how take-up and use of communications services varies across different parts of Northern Ireland.

Penetration of most services is higher in the east than in the west; for example digital TV take-up (85% in the east, 66% in the west), mobile phone ownership (88% in the east, 81% in the west) and broadband (62% compared to 57%).

Use of converged communications services also tended to be higher in the east; for example 24% of adults there have used a social networking site, compared to 17% in the west, while 27% have used the mobile internet compared to 15% in the west.

Non-ownership of communications services is due to lack of interest and cost

Consumers in Northern Ireland who do not have fixed-line phones, mobile phones or broadband typically say that this is because they don’t want them or that the cost is too high. Less than 1% of survey respondents said that lack of service availability was a reason for not having a broadband connection.

The majority of homes can receive TV channels from the Republic of Ireland

Seventy one per cent of viewers in Northern Ireland can receive channels broadcast from the Republic of Ireland. Those in the border areas (92%), and the west (89%) were more likely to receive them than those in the east. Almost one-third of respondents to our survey reported watching RT É 1 and RT É 2 on a daily basis with roughly another 40% watching at least once a week

For a significant minority, access to these channels was very important. Around two-fifths said that the hypothetical loss of RT É 1, RT É 2, TV3 and TG4 would be ”a major problem” and that they would be “very unhappy”.

Community radio in Northern Ireland is growing

An additional eight community radio stations were licensed in Northern Ireland in 2007, bringing the total number of community stations to 14, including Raidió Fáilte which broadcasts in the Irish language to parts of Belfast. There were also six Ulster Scots Restricted Service Licences issued during the year.

Key points: converged communications

Three in ten adults in Northern Ireland have watched video content online
Broadcasters operating in Northern Ireland are repackaging regional content for distribution over the internet; UTV and the BBC both offer locally-focused programmes. Thirty per cent of adults in Northern Ireland have used the internet to watch TV or video content, with little variation across Northern Ireland.

One in ten adults in Northern Ireland have listened to the radio online
Many regional radio stations offer listen-live functionality over the internet. One in ten (9%) Northern Ireland adults, particularly those in eastern and urban areas, have used the internet to listen to the radio: lower than the UK average (13%).

A quarter of adults in Northern Ireland have accessed mobile internet….
Adults in Northern Ireland are more likely than the UK average to access the internet using a mobile phone (23% compared to 20%). Those in eastern regions are much more likely than those in the west to access the internet on their mobile, despite similar levels of mobile phone take-up.

…and are above average users of video on mobiles…
Adults in Northern Ireland are more likely than the UK average to use a mobile handset to watch video content (7% compared to 4%). One per cent have used a mobile phone to watch live television.

…while 19% have listened to audio on a mobile handset
One in five adults (19%) in Northern Ireland have used a mobile phone to listen to audio content - a similar level to the UK overall. Again, there is a big difference between the east (22%) and the west (14%).

Social networking is highest in Londonderry/Derry
Use of social networking sites is at a similar level in Northern Ireland to the UK as a whole. It appears to be higher in the east than in the west, though it is highest in Londonderry/Derry, at 28% of adults.

8% of adults in Northern Ireland have made VoIP telephone calls
Eight per cent of adults have used the internet to make VoIP telephone calls in Northern Ireland, a level unchanged since 2006. However, take-up varies by region, ranging from 14% in western urban areas to just 2% in western rural areas.

8,000 Wikipedia articles in Irish or Ulster Scots
Speakers of Irish and Ulster Scots can access and edit versions of Wikipedia in their own languages. As of January 2008, there were over 6,000 Wikipedia articles in Irish and over 2,000 in Ulster Scots.

Key points: television

Satellite TV popular in Northern Ireland
Digital television take-up in Northern Ireland (79%) remains a little behind the UK-wide average (85%), possibly due to lower levels of Freeview and cable availability. Pay television is marginally more popular than in the UK as a whole, and satellite is a much more popular choice among those who chose to pay.

The five main PSB channels have a collective viewing share of 66%
The five main PSB channels in Northern Ireland attract a collective share of 66%; 2 percentage points ahead of the UK as a whole. UTV is a particularly popular choice, with the second highest share of all the main commercial PSB channels in the UK (23%). Its early evening local news bulletin attracted the highest share of viewing in the UK in 2007, at 39%, compared to the Channel 3 average of 20%.

Two-thirds of people in Northern Ireland watch ROI channels
As the Republic of Ireland is so close, many people are able to access – and choose to watch – channels broadcast from there. Up to 90% of homes in border areas can receive all four Republic of Ireland channels, and around two-thirds of the population watch RT É 1 or RT É 2 on a weekly basis.

The BBC and UTV spent £29m on Northern Ireland-originated output in 2007
The BBC and UTV together spent £29m on originated output for viewers in Northern Ireland during 2007, accounting for 8% of BBC/ITV UK-wide spend. This figure is down by 15% in real terms from 2006, compared with the UK average fall of 3%, and was driven in large part by the BBC’s reduced spend on non-news and non-current affairs output during the year.

Per head, spend on Northern Ireland-originated output was three times the UK average…
Viewers benefited in 2007 from £16.84 per head of spend on originated output, relative to the UK-wide average of £5.41. Although this was the highest level among the UK’s four nations, it must be put in the context of Northern Ireland’s relatively small overall population (comprising just 3% of the UK total).

…with 1,151 hours of locally originated output in 2007
The £29m spend by the BBC and UTV funded 1,151 hours of originated output in 2007, a figure almost unchanged since 2006. Adjusting for population size, this equated to 13 hours of regional output per million of population per week, compared to the UK-wide average of 3.8 hours.

Out-of-London production quotas  met by the BBC, Channel 4 and five but shortfall by ITV
The BBC, Channel 4 and five each met their out-of London production quotas by value and by volume in 2007. While ITV1 met its 50% volume quota, achieving 53%, the proportion of ITV1 spend outside London in 2007 was 44% - significantly below the 50% minimum. ITV’s failure to meet the value element of its out-of-London quota is a serious matter, and one which is the subject of further consideration by Ofcom with a view to regulatory action.

Key points: radio

Listening to BBC local / national radio is highest in the UK
BBC nations / local radio is more popular in Northern Ireland than in any other nation, attracting a 25% share of all listening hours in 2007, compared to a UK average for BBC nations / local radio of 10%. BBC network radio share is below average in Northern Ireland at 27% of listening, (compared to 44%). ‘Other’ stations, (including community radio stations, short term stations and RT É Radio), now accounts for 10% of all radio listening in Northern Ireland, compared to a UK average of 2%. The most popular sector of radio listening in Northern Ireland is still local commercial radio however, with almost a third (31%) share of listening.

BBC Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle the most popular local radio stations
Over half a million adult listeners (537k) tuned in to BBC Radio Ulster / BBC Radio Foyle on a weekly basis in 2007, equivalent to 39% of the adult population, making these the most popular radio services across Northern Ireland. The most popular commercial stations were based in Belfast and included Cool FM (311k adult listeners per week), Downtown Radio (240k) and Citybeat 96.7 FM (136k).

Digital radio listening lower in Northern Ireland
Thirteen per cent of individuals in Northern Ireland own a DAB digital radio, an increase of 2 percentage points since 2006. This is lower than in the other nations, with ownership in England at 22%, Wales at 14%, and Scotland at 21%. Twenty-two per cent of radio listeners in Northern Ireland have listened to radio channels via digital television, and 11% have listened to radio through the internet.

BBC expenditure falls in Northern Ireland in 2006/07
BBC nations / local radio spend in Northern Ireland totalled £15.9m in 2006/07, down from £17.0m in 2005/06. This equates to around £9.64 per person; lower than in Wales, but higher than in Scotland and than BBC local radio in England. Expenditure on BBC local radio in Northern Ireland decreased by £1.1m over the year, equivalent to a fall of £0.75 per head. BBC spend on BBC Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle averages 55p per listener hour lower than the cost per hour of national services in Scotland and in Wales.

Commercial revenue £8.03 per head in 2007, second highest in UK
Revenue generated by local commercial radio stations in Northern Ireland exceeded £13m in 2007, up from £11m in 2006. Per person, this averaged £8.03 in 2007, up from £6.66 per head in 2006 – the second highest in the UK, and the second highest increase over the year.

Community radio growing in Northern Ireland
The number of community radio stations continues to grow, with eight community licences awarded in Northern Ireland during 2007/08, bringing the total number to 14. Seven stations are already broadcasting to local communities in areas including Banbridge, Belfast, Downpatrick, Enniskillen, Lisburn, and Newry.

Key points: telecoms

Northern Ireland take-up of telecoms services in line with UK average...
Household take-up of fixed telephony in Northern Ireland is in line with the UK average, at 88%. However, there is a significant difference between fixed-line take-up in Northern Ireland’s urban (85%) and rural (94%) areas. Mobile phone ownership, at 85%, is similar to the UK average, but greater in the east at 88%.

…but broadband take-up lower
Internet penetration, at 61%, is lower than the UK average of 65%, as is broadband take-up (52% of homes, compared to 57%). Both are higher in the eastern and rural areas of Northern Ireland.

New tariffs introduced to alleviate border roaming costs
In 2006 several mobile operators, on both sides of the border, introduced tariffs aimed at alleviating the problem of inadvertent roaming. EU developments led to the introduction of the ‘Eurotariff’ in September 2007, which, although not specifically designed as a solution to inadvertent roaming, could also result in significant price reductions for users.

Satisfaction with services lower in Northern Ireland
Overall satisfaction with fixed-line services in Northern Ireland stood at 88% in 2007, identical to the UK average. Over three-quarters (78%) of broadband users in Northern Ireland were satisfied with the speed of their broadband connection, somewhat lower than the UK average (83%). However, mobile phone users in Northern Ireland are significantly less satisfied with their mobile phone reception (at 78%) than the UK average of 87%. Satisfaction levels are lowest in rural areas (59%), particularly in the rural west (44%).

Local loop unbundling speeding up in Northern Ireland
Approximately 38 of Northern Ireland's 191 telephone exchanges, together serving 51% of the total Northern Ireland population, have been unbundled by four operators - AOL, Carphone Warehouse, Sky/Easynet and Tiscali. Although Northern Ireland had the lowest availability of LLU services at the end of 2007, it has had the fastest growth; up 41 percentage points from 10% at the end of 2006.