UK comms revenues reach all-time low of £54.7bn, as internet kills the TV star

Plus: Ofcom report reveals demise of the phone-call

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Communications revenues in the UK reached their lowest point in 2017, falling 2.1 per cent to £54.7bn, while people are ditching calls and texts for over-the-top messaging, according to Ofcom.

In its annual state of the communications market report, the comms regulator said that the decline was due to contracting TV revenues, as well as total telecoms and post revenues.

Telecoms revenues fell by 1 per cent to £35.6bn, in 2017, which Ofcom put down to changes in phone use that has seen reductions in phone calls and text messages.

Outgoing calls per person fell by 18 per cent and 2 per cent for fixed and mobile, respectively, while total monthly SMS and MMS messages per person fell by 16 per cent to 98 texts.

At the same time, the increased use of over-the-top services means there has been an increase in data use.

Mobile data use rose from 1.3GB in June 2016 to 1.9GB in June 2017, while for fixed lines, usage rose from an average of 132GB in June 2016 to 190GB in June 2017.

Although take-up of fixed broadband has now plateaued at 80 per cent, there has been an increased spend on fixed voice and internet services, which Ofcom said was due to an increase in more expensive superfast services.

Superfast broadband connections in the UK rose from 10.8 million to 12.8 million, while 2017 was the first year where the number of ADSL fixed broadband connections surpassed by fibre connections, which Ofcom described as a watershed moment.

Ofcom noted that the UK is seventh in the European Union on the availability of next-generation access cable and fibre infrastructure – but “still lags behind other countries” in terms of full-fibre availability.

The report also makes clear that better smartphone tech means that people are increasingly using their phones to go online – 62 per cent of the time people spent on the internet was from mobile devices, and just 25 per cent of time is on a desktop or laptop.

And this has also changed the way people buy mobile services, with a shift from pre-pay to pay-monthly services, and the more recent increase in SIM-only sales – partly driven by increasing minimum contract terms.

This has brought with it greater dependency on such devices, and Ofcom has used this as the main PR point of this year’s report, by comparing the current situation with a decade ago - a year after the iPhone came on the market.

Today, some 78 per cent of people own a smartphone, compared with 17 per cent in 2008, the report said; in contrast desktop PC ownership plummeted from 69 per cent to 28 per cent.

People now check their phones on average every 12 minutes and about two-fifths of people look at their phone within five minutes of waking up or going to sleep.

For search, although most people use Google – some 87 per cent – a dogged 4 per cent are still going to Ask. About a fifth turn to Yahoo!, 44 per cent to Bing and 1 per cent DuckDuckGo

And, while Facebook and Google unsurprisingly reached 90 per cent of UK internet users each month in 2018, the BBC has the third largest reach, beating off Microsoft and Amazon sites for the first time.

For search, although most people use Google – some 87 per cent – a dogged 4 per cent are still going to Ask. About a fifth turn to Yahoo!, 44 per cent to Bing and 1 per cent DuckDuckGo.

The report also found that just 17 per cent of people said they felt stressed when they wanted to access the internet but couldn’t – suggesting the majority of the UK populace has better anger management than many of El Reg’s bitter hacks.

Meanwhile, the shift in attitudes and better internet access has changed TV viewing habits.

Although broadcasters continue to account for most viewing, household spend on TV fell by an average of 4 per cent a month between 2016 and 2017, while subscription services like Netflix saw revenues rise to £895m. Some 39 per cent of people now have an on-demand sub.

Radio appears more resilient, with nine out of 10 adults saying they listen to the radio for an average of almost 21 hours a week and 75 per cent of all audio listening being live radio.

But this might change as podcasts increase in popularity – for those who listen to podcasts, the amount of time spent listening to live radio drops to 48 per cent.

For the postal services, the continued shift towards online communications once again dented addressed letter revenues, which fell by 6 per cent to £4.1bn.

This was offset, though, by a 5 per cent boost in parcel revenues, to £9.3bn, with 12 per cent more parcels sent in 2017 than the previous year. Ofcom said this was due to an increase in online shopping.

Spending on direct marketing fell by 2 per cent in real terms, to £1.8bn, in 2017, which is in contrast to a 10 per cent decline in the previous year – and as anyone with a letterbox can attest, restaurants and takeaways are the main offenders. ®


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