The study by UK media regulator Ofcom shows that online time for children (aged 5 to 15) has settled at just over two hours a day, around 20 minutes more than they spend watching traditional TV.
The amount of time kids spend online stopped growing for the first time in 2018, researchers found, peaking at an average of two hours and 11 minutes a day, the same as the previous year.
But the time they spend watching TV continues to decline, falling year-on-year by nearly eight minutes to one hour 52 minutes.
YouTube is the number one choice for children, with 80% having watched it. Almost half (49%) of all children, and a third (32%) of pre-schoolers aged three to four, now also watch on-demand video services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Now TV.
Meanwhile, Facebook is on the decline. The study found 72% of 12 to 15-year-olds who had a social media account use Facebook, down from 74% in 2017. But Instagram, owned by Facebook, showed a big leap in usage – In 2018, 23% of young people said it was their main social network, up from 14% the previous year.
Researchers found that live TV now tends to be parent-led and is often reserved for family time, usually by “appointment viewing”.
In contrast, children said they valued YouTube and other on-demand video services because they could watch what they wanted, when they wanted. Ultimately, researchers found, the appeal of YouTube comes down to three things.
Children watch videos about things they are interested in, what the report calls hobbies and passions, from music to football, and arts and crafts. Many young viewers got so much satisfaction from watching others take part in these activities they no longer felt the need to do them themselves in the offline world.
Vloggers or YouTubers were also hugely popular. Young viewers look up to them, and regard them as friends whose advice and support they value. They especially enjoy the insight these videos offer into other people’s ‘normal’ lives.
And, finally, there is the appeal of “sensory videos”. These include those offering “satisfying noises”, such as people “making and playing with slime, or opening presents”.
The study describes such videos as providing “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response” – due to their ability to generate a feeling of well-being and relaxation among some people.
Sourced from Ofcom; additional content by WARC staff