Teens quit networking but comms stay strong

Author: By Nick Clark

Ofcom, the media regulator, found social networking is growing more slowly, and among the 15 to 24 age group those with a profile fell five percentage points from the end of March last year to 50 per cent in 2009.

The findings emerged in the regulator’s sixth annual communications market report, a survey of the state of the UK’s television, radio and telecoms markets that runs to 332 pages. Ofcom said social networking had been one of the “fastest-moving stories in digital communications in the past four years,” before adding that social networking had begun to mature “both metaphorically and literally”.

While social networking was losing its lustre for teens and those in their early twenties, Britons aged between 35 and 54 embraced it. The group proved the fastest growing, with 35 per cent claiming an account, up 8 percentage points. Facebook still remained the dominant player in the UK, rising 73 per cent to hit a unique monthly audience of 19 million. Users also spent six hours a month on the site.

Rival MySpace saw some growth while Bebo spiralled 17 per cent lower. The outstanding success has been Twitter, the microblogging site. It grew from 150,000 unique users in May last year to 2.6 million this year. The music streaming service Spotify is also gaining traction, with users spending more time on the site than either iTunes or Windows Media Player in the first month after its launch.

The star of Second Life, the online virtual world, is on the wane, however, where the average user now spends about nine hours a month on the service, down from highs of 28 hours.

Today’s report found that the communications industry in general grew 0.2 per cent to £51.8bn in 2008 bolstered by subscription revenue from pay TV and telecoms companies.

Ofcom believes the revenues are secure as communications spending “appears relatively robust when compared to alternative claims on disposable income”. Only toiletries and groceries are more secure than spending on mobile phones and television.

The first thing to go is a night out. According to a sample of 862 Britons polled by Ofcom, 47 per cent were likely to cut back their spending on going out, followed by 41 per cent cutting on holidays and home improvements.

Less than a fifth were willing to cut spending on phones, 16 per cent on TV subscriptions and just a tenth on broadband subscription. The regulator found consumers were likely to retain their phone handsets to save money as well as take advantage of their deals.

Last year, mobile users sent over 80 billion texts, an average of 100 texts per person per month, which marked a leap of almost 30 per cent on 2007. Voice calls also grew 6 per cent to more than 100 billion minutes.

While mobile operators are less susceptible to the recession, 2008 marked the first time revenues remained flat, “affected by the competitive pressures of markets approaching saturation”. The report added that fixed line operators were feeling the pressure from the rise in mobile phone use.

This year marked a rise in the take up of broadband. By the end of March, 68 per cent of households had installed the service, up from 58 per cent this time last year. There was strong growth in mobile broadband, with one in 10 households owning a connection, with more than a quarter of a million new connections in May alone. The average time spent on the internet at home rose 21 per cent from five years ago to 25 minutes a day.

Meanwhile, television viewing was up slightly to 225 minutes. Revenue in the television industry grew 1.3 per cent to £11.2bn in 2008, driven by subscription revenue, backed by the growth of services including High Definition and multiroom. Yet free to air TV and radio has suffered as advertising revenues were down 3 per cent to £3.4bn.

“Early indicators suggest that advertising revenue has dropped further in 2009,” the report said.

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