By Daniel Hunter

Huge growth in take-up of smartphones and tablets is creating a nation of media multi-taskers, Ofcom research reveals, transforming the traditional living room of our parents and grandparents into a digital media hub.

Ofcom’s Communications Market Report 2013 reveals that people are still coming together to watch TV in the living room — 91% of UK adults view TV on the main set each week, up from 88% in 2002.

However, an increasing array of digital media are now vying for their attention. People are streaming videos, firing off instant messages and updating their social media status — all while watching more TV than before.

These activities are mostly carried out using smartphones, with over half of adults (51%) now owning these devices, almost double the proportion two years ago (27%).

At the same time, tablet ownership has more than doubled in the past year, rising from 11% of homes to 24%. The average household now owns more than three types of internet enabled device, with one in five owning six or more.

Over half (53%) of UK adults are now media multi-tasking while watching TV on a weekly basis. Watching other content on a different device is one of these activities.

A quarter (25%) are regularly ‘media meshing’ — doing something else but related to what they’re watching on TV. Examples of media meshing include talking on the phone (16%) or texting (17%) about what they’re watching, using social networks (11%) or ‘apps’ to communicate directly with programmes (3%). Younger people are most likely to use other media while watching TV (74%) with 44% media meshing.

The impact of media meshing was seen during the 2013 Wimbledon Men’s tennis final, with 1.1 million people worldwide tweeting 2.6 million times using hashtags associated with the tennis final. Of these tweets, around 80% came from mobile devices.

The other major social phenomenon driven by digital devices is ‘media stacking’. Half (49%) of people use their smartphones and tablets for completely unrelated activities while watching TV every week — such as surfing the net (36%), social networking (22%) or online shopping (16%).

Women are significantly more likely to media multi-task weekly (56% compared to 51% of men), as are those with children at home (66%).

While the average household owns at least three types of internet-enabled device, the TV set in the living room retains its importance. People are increasingly reverting to having just one TV in their household — 41% of households in 2012 compared with 35% in 2002.

In the first quarter of 2013, half (52%) of 5-15 year olds had a TV in their bedroom. This compares to seven in ten (69%) in 2007. And the proportion of UK adults viewing via the main TV set has increased from 88% in 2002 to 91% in 2012.

Live TV accounted for 90% of all viewing in 2012, with the average viewer watching just over four hours of TV a day — 15 minutes more than in 2008. Viewers are also enjoying bigger screens in the living room. ‘Jumbo’ TV sets (43”+) accounted for 15.8% of sales in the first quarter 2013, a 4.3 percentage point increase on 2012.

Tablets are also supporting the continued popularity of watching TV live, with more than half (57%) of tablet audiovisual content viewers watching live TV at least weekly via this device.

“Our research shows that increasingly families are gathering in the living room to watch TV just as they were in the 1950s — but now delivered on bigger, wider and more sophisticated sets," James Thickett, Ofcom’s Director of Research, said.

"Unlike the 1950s family, however, they are also doing their own thing. They are tweeting about a TV show, surfing the net or watching different content altogether on a tablet.

“Just a few years ago, we would be talking about last night’s TV at work or at school. Now, we’re having those conversations live while watching TV — using social media, text and instant messaging.”

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