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British Families' TV, Internet Habits Blend

Today's British families tend to gather in one room to watch TV together, says report, but family members multitask on mobile devices while they watch.

A new study by U.K. communications regulatory group Ofcom suggests that the media consumption habits of today's British families are strikingly reminiscent of those of the 1950s -- at least at first glance. According to the 2013 Communications Market Report, a typical scenario features family members in one room, gathered around a single television screen.

But while everyone may be in the same room, their activities vary, from surfing the Web to chatting with friends online, texting, and generally multitasking on mobile devices. According to the study, for example, 22% of families who own a tablet report watching different content on different screens while in the same room all or most of the time.

Ofcom refers to this modern living room as the "digital media hub," where family members stream videos, fire off instant messages and update their social media status -- all while watching more TV than before. "Our research shows that increasingly families are gathering in the living room to watch TV just as they were in the 1950s -- but [it's] now delivered on bigger, wider and more sophisticated sets," said Ofcom director of research James Thickett.

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"Just a few years ago, we would be talking about last night's TV at work or at school," Thickett added. "Now, we're having those conversations live while watching TV -- using social media, text and instant messaging."

For their media multitasking, Brits primarily use smartphones. Currently 51% of Brits own these devices -- a huge increase from 27% just 24 months ago. Tablets are also popular, with ownership more than doubling in the past year, from 11% to 24% of British households. In fact, the average U.K. household now owns more than three different Internet-enabled devices, with 20% of households owning six or more. Not surprisingly, younger people are more likely than their parents to use other media while watching TV.

According to the study, at the end of Q1 2013 only 7% of households owned a smart TV; a 2% increase over the previous year. Of households that own a smart TV, 77% have used the Internet connection. Overall, 80% of U.K. adults have access to the Internet at home via either a fixed or mobile broadband connection or a mobile handset.

Superfast broadband -- defined in the U.K. as speeds of over 30 Mbit/s -- is now available to almost three-quarters of homes and businesses. While only 17.5% of all fixed broadband connections were classified as superfast at the end of March 2013, the number of subscribers doubled, from 1.9 million to 3.8 million, between July 2012 and March 2013. And more than half of superfast broadband users say the service has enabled them to work at home more often.

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