New study reveals the data of a year lived online for the UK

UK regulator Ofcom has published its 2021 Online Nation Report, offering a snapshot of an “unprecedented year” for UK citizens as communication, entertainment, culture, retail, work and education moved online.  

Comparable with European nations, UK adults spent more time online (whether via smartphones, tablets or desktop) in 2020: more than three-and-a-half hours online each day in 2020 – more than an hour longer than in Germany and France and 30 minutes more than Spain. By the end of the year, about 94% of UK homes had internet access, up from about 89% in 2019. 

Lockdown online life revealed

Online gaming, shopping and video-calling saw understandable increases in time spent on the internet: Nearly two thirds (62%) of adults, and 92% of 16- to 24-year-olds, said they played games on an electronic device, and over half of all gamers agreed that gaming helped them get through lockdown. Video calling became an important way for people to keep in touch during the pandemic, with sizable growth for Zoom (from a few hundred thousand users in the first two months of 2020 to more than 13 million in April and May); there was also sustained increases for Microsoft Teams.  

Ofcom has found that while the internet was a vital lifeline for many across the UK in 2020, over half of children had a negative experience online, as well as data on the digital divide remaining a blocker for many in accessing online services. Seven- to eight-year-olds spent an average of nearly three hours a day online in September 2020 and 15- to 16-year-olds nearly five hours— the majority of internet use is centred on watching video content and gaming, with social video platforms seeing significant growth.  

Growth of video consumption

During the spring 2020 lockdown, nearly three-quarters of 15- to 24-year-olds said they watched short video content online every day, and in September 2020 YouTube users aged 18-24 spent an average of 1 hour 16 minutes a day on the service. TikTok experienced huge growth during the pandemic – from 3 million UK adult visitors in September 2019 to 14 million by March 2021.  

Ofcom also highlights the impact of lockdown on shifting retail patterns and behaviour, with online retail spend in the UK increasing by 48% to an estimated £113bn in 2020 (compared to an average annual increase of 13% in the previous four years). Online Nation 2021 also found that many people get their news online, but with an increasing risk of misinformation being spread through social media.  

Further studies on misinformation, measurement and transparency

Alongside the full report and interactive report, Ofcom is publishing three third-party reports designed to help it better understand people’s online habits, behaviours and attitudes.  

These reports are:  

Ofcom has also published an independent report by PA Consulting on transparency in the regulation of online platforms as part of its preparation to take on new responsibilities regulating online safety. 

Sophie James

Sophie James

Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy, techUK

Manuel R. Marti

Manuel R. Marti

Programme Manager, UK SPF and Satellite, techUK

Julia Ofori-Addo

Julia Ofori-Addo

Programme Assistant, Central Government, Digital Connectivity Forum, Comms Infrastructure, UK SPF, , techUK