Online lessons for CSPs and DSPs from the pandemic

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

Apr 28, 2021

© Flickr/cc-licence/Steve Bowbrick

© Flickr/cc-licence/Steve Bowbrick

  • Ofcom has been compiling a storehouse of qualitative data since the early 2000s on digital media consumption and the way it’s changed over time 
  • Never have UK patterns of consumption changed as quickly as they have 2020 with the shock of the lockdowns
  • This year’s Media Literacy Report is a storehouse of insights into how digital consumers and their consumption has leapt forward and how it might be intercepted

Ofcom has released its annual media literacy report, this year garnished with extra interest since it spans the UK’s Covid-19 experience and tracks the intensifying need for broadband Internet access as the UK whirled in and out of lockdown three times. Ofcom has been able to cross reference  that experience with data from its ongoing ‘qualitative study’, ‘Adults’ Media Lives’ which seeks to provide insights into how digital media consumption and expectations change with age. 

Published annually since 2005 Adults’ Media Lives involves “extended filmed interviews with the same individuals each year,” to see how relationships with digital media had evolved. Various surveys have sought to add in some important numbers around different levels of media access, awareness, skills and understanding. 

By the end of 2020, one thing was shining through Ofcom’s research: there was a digital divide problem in the UK that needed attention. Recognition that future lockdowns were at least a possibility meant that a major effort was needed to, as far as possible, erase a divide that showed up as:

 1.5 million households (6%) remain offline as of last month, despite the heightened need for  permanent access to services as exposed by the lockdowns:

  • Most important was the fact that 20% of children did not always have access to a device for online learning while schools were closed, while many homes had no internet access at all.

  • The study found that those without access were most likely to be either people aged over 65, or households with low incomes or financial vulnerability.

In the past, lack of online access could often be put down to a proportion of the population  simply being uninterested and happy to rely on traditional paper media or television and radio. But as online usage has grown, those without access actually become disadvantaged as the analogue world alternatives are withdrawn or narrowed. Banks and shops were already shutting in small towns and villages before 2020, for instance. Suddenly, with the lockdown, life became far more difficult as many shops were shut for the duration and the standard way of obtaining groceries was now via an online ordering process, as just one example.

Meanwhile, those with access powered ahead, often taking the opportunity to learn new skills and adopt new interests. 

The way forward

CSPs are going to play an important role in narrowing and ideally banishing the digital divide by applying new technology and services.  The Ofcom research might be an assist for DSP strategies:

Interesting findings in the wake of the lockdowns, given that many of these behaviours are likely to persist post pandemic.

  • According to Ofcom, surprisingly,  21% of its adult social media users had TikTok profiles, although Facebook was the most popular overall with 83% of the adults in the study having a presence on the platform.
  • Gaming also became increasingly popular during lockdown, with 62% of adults and seven out of 10 five to 15-year-olds playing online games.
  • Technology purchase priorities have changed. There’s now a greater focus on home entertainment technology and equipment to support home working.  Home working and remote study have become the norm for many of our participants, and most believe that at least some of these changes will be permanent. 
  • The use of video conferencing platforms and features has grown considerably both for keeping work and social interaction going during the pandemic, and for providing social contact with friends and family  -  again this behaviour is likely to persist. 
  • Health oriented technology has become a big one. Already on the climb before 2020, it’s now  firmly planted in everyday life for many. Includes apps which track health and fitness, and the use of online diets and exercise routines. Some participants also relied heavily on online resources such as YouTube to research medical issues.
  • In terms of media: Streaming services are playing  an increasingly important role. Subscription services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Now TV and Disney+ continue to be extremely popular but participants also reported increased use of BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and All4. 

There is a huge number of these insights available in the report Adults’ Media Lives, Wave 16: 2020/21 

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