Life on the small screen: What children are watching and why



Ofcom commissioned this research to explore what video content children are watching, how they reach it and why they choose it.

We found:

• Children generally preferred watching content on YouTube or Netflix over live TV
• YouTubers and vloggers were incredibly popular, especially those that the children felt they had something in common with
• Content that connected to their lives was often the most appealing, as well as sensory material such as slime videos

Forty children and young people aged between 4 and 16 took part in the research. We conducted 3-hour depth interviews with each of the respondents and collected data over three months relating to their video consumption – combining both self-report and objective evidence through screen record and device histories – providing a holistic understanding of their day-to-day habits.


It is always difficult for people – even adults – to articulate why they like what they like. For children, it can be even harder, so research that relies on asking them this question won’t reveal the full picture.

Instead, this research has gathered an objective data-set of what children watched across all platforms, before exploring with them the context, journey and decision-making process that led them to specific examples.

It also sought to understand what their interests are more generally and how they spend their free time, to be able to place their viewing behaviours in the context of their day-to-day lives. In this way, the research reveals what children watch, why they choose to watch it and how they find or discover it.

The evidence gives a sense of what attracts them to online video rather than traditional TV – and just how much has changed in the course of a generation.