By Maximilian Clarke

Cheap internet in the UK has been identified as one factor driving a surge in online activity, with more than a quarter of the UK population watching TV online, Ofcom research shows.

The result has been a surge in online advertising spend. Currently the UK has the largest proportion of online advertising- which at £4.1bn equals TV advertising spend.

“Our research shows that the UK communications market is performing well with prices, the range of services and innovation standing up well against international benchmarks,” said Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards.

“There are also issues which we will monitor carefully, such as the future roll-out 4G mobile services. We are pressing ahead with plans to release this valuable spectrum at the end of next year which will enable new mobile services for consumers.”

Other trends identified in Ofcom's extensive research are expanded in more detail below:

TV viewing extends online
The UK’s love of TV continues, with over a quarter (27 per cent) of UK internet users saying they watched TV online every week, an increase of 3 percentage points from 2010, and higher than any of the other countries surveyed. The popularity of a wide variety of free-to-view catch-up TV services such as BBC iPlayer has helped to drive online TV viewing in the UK.

The UK also saw the largest growth in digital video recorder (DVR) take-up, with over a third (36 per cent) of homes now owning a DVR (a 4 percentage point increase on 2009). Among the six countries surveyed, the UK is second only to the US, where 41 per cent of households own a DVR.
Overall, TV viewing in the UK increased by 7.6 per cent in 2010 compared with 2009, with the average person watching just over 4 hours of TV per day (242 minutes). This was the highest increase year-on-year among the countries surveyed, and 31 minutes more than the average of 211 minutes per person.

Social networking in wide use around the world
Social networking is a global phenomenon, with over three quarters of consumers in the markets we surveyed saying that they have visited a social networking site, with the majority saying they visit them on a daily basis. This is much higher among 18-24 year olds, with eight in ten (83 per cent) visiting on a daily basis.

Social networking sites are most popular in Italy, with 91 per cent ever having visited and a quarter visiting over five times a day (24 per cent), while in the UK eight out of ten (79 per cent) have ever visited with one in five visiting over five times a day
UK consumers are more likely to access social networking sites on a mobile phone than other countries, with 43 per cent of those with social networking site profiles saying they do so compared to just 30 per cent in the US. However UK social networkers say they have fewer friends online (168) than Americans (198) or Italians (216) — but more than the French (108) or Germans (137).
Consumers are also using social networking sites for breaking news, with one third (35 per cent) of UK consumers saying they do this and nearly half of French (45 per cent) and Italians (47 per cent) agreeing. Breaking news is more popular among 18-24 year olds in all countries.

Consumers getting a good deal in the UK
Ofcom research into the prices consumers pay for their communications services has found that prices in the UK compare favourably to those available in other countries.
The analysis examined the prices of a typical ‘basket’ of communications services (fixed-line phone, mobile phone, broadband and pay TV) for five household types. It compared the prices available to consumers in the UK (in July 2011) with those in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the US. Overall, the UK offered the lowest prices for all five baskets based on buying services individually and four of the five baskets when including multi-service ‘bundles’.
Overall, the price of mobile phone services in the UK were 36 per cent lower than in the next least expensive country (France) and were 10 per cent lower than a year previously. However, prices for low-use mobile phone services (such as pay as you go) in the UK increased between July 2010 and July 2011 (as they did in France, Germany and Italy). Fixed-line voice prices in the UK were also lower than in all other countries.
Looking at the prices for a typical family ‘basket’ of communications services consisting of a fixed-line phone with high use, four mobile phones with varying use, a fixed broadband connection and a basic pay TV subscription, the lowest price available to consumers in the UK was £114, second only to France (£79). Prices for this basket in the UK increased by 10 per cent between 2010 and 2011, largely due to increases in the prices of the low-use mobile phone services.

Superfast broadband rapidly becoming available
Overall availability of high-speed fixed-line broadband networks in the UK compares favourably to other European countries. By June 2011, 59 per cent of households had access to Virgin Media or BT’s superfast services. However, just 4 per cent of UK households subscribed to superfast services in June 2011, compared with 40 per cent in Japan and 10 per cent in the US, although higher than in Germany (3 per cent), Italy (1.5 per cent) and Spain (2.2 per cent).
New spectrum that will be used for superfast mobile broadband networks using LTE technology has been auctioned in a number of countries. Some countries, such as Sweden, have already launched networks, with headline speeds of up to 100Mbit/s. Services in the UK are expected to launch in 2013 following the 4G spectrum auction in the second half of 2012.

Internet use drives high online advertising spend
More and more advertisers are flocking to the internet across the globe, with the UK leading on the total proportion of advertising spent on the internet (29 per cent) — almost double the level for global internet advertising (15 per cent). UK online advertising spend in 2010 was almost the same as TV advertising (30 per cent), increasing by 16 per cent to reach £4.1bn.

Increased global communications revenues
Communications revenues increased across the board in the 17 countries covered in the report compared with 2009:
- Total retail telecoms revenues generated £594bn in 2010, 1.9 per cent higher than in 2009;
- Total radio revenues reached £25bn in 2010, up by 5 per cent from 2009; and
- TV revenues increased by 7.7 per cent year on year from £222bn to £239bn.

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