This report is published as part of OfCom's media literacy duties. It provides research that looks at media use, attitudes and understanding, and how these change over time, with a particular focus on those groups that tend not to participate digitally. The report covers TV, radio, mobile, games, and the internet, with a particular focus on the latter. The report focuses on the current wave of research which was conducted in autumn 2015 and any key changes compared to 2014.

The Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report this year highlights shifts in how people are engaging with online content and services, raising a number of important implications.

1. There has been a sizeable increase in the proportion of internet users saying they only use websites or apps that they’ve used before (42% vs 31% in 2014). This change is seen across all socio-economic groups and particularly among those aged 25 and over. This may be linked to the growing tendency to use “digital intermediaries” such as Facebook, Google, YouTube and Amazon for much activity. This change in use patterns underlines the growing importance of critical literacy skills. Even as search engines remain the default means of accessing information, levels of understanding remain mixed as to what their results signify, and half of search engine users are unable to correctly identify ads or sponsored links at the top of many results pages.

2. There has been a considerable rise (from 6% in 2014 to 16% in 2015) in the proportion of adults who only use smartphones or tablets to go online, and not a PC/laptop. In other words, these newer devices are not just supplementing PCs/laptops, but are starting to replace them. This pattern is seen across all ages of adults, across all socio-economic groups and for males and females, but is particularly marked among newer users, young people and those in DE households. This move away from PCs and laptops and towards smartphones and tablets has the potential to make an impact in a number of areas.

There are implications for plurality: as people may use fewer sources for their content and services, and prefer to use a small subset of apps or digital intermediaries rather than search for a wider range of material, then discoverability mechanisms become more important. There are also implications for usability, as the size of the device may hamper some types of use e.g. typing longer forms/documents; and online habits, as people’s use is more dependent on their data consumption and can diminish considerably as monthly allowances are used up.

3. There is an increasing preference for mobile phones above more traditional media devices. From 2005 - 2014, adults were most likely to say they would miss their TV set the most. Now mobile phones are the most-missed media device. The smartphone is also the device mostly used for social media and is the preferred device for the majority of online activities.

4. There is increasing polarity between different age groups in terms of communications activity. Whereas 25 years ago, all age groups shared just two common means of communication – landlines and letters – the landscape is now considerably more varied, and there is a risk that common means of communication that cut across demographics are becoming increasingly rare, with implications for social connectivity and information-sharing.

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