Australia’s hunger for digital video is changing everything: ACMA

Credit: Max Earey /

Australians are consuming digital content – especially video – at record levels, which is driving significant shifts in everything from mobile device usage and services to infrastructure and content delivery.

So says the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s Communications report 2015–16, which tracks current trends in consumer behavior and industry responses.

Acting ACMA Chairman Richard Bean said continuing increase in digital data traffic has been the main cause of change in the communications sector over the past year.

“Australians downloaded 2.2 million terabytes of data in the quarter to June 2016 alone—a 114% increase on two years ago,” Bean said.

That in turn has accelerated telecoms infrastructure investment to keep up with demand, Bean added. “The continuation of the NBN rollout, expansion of 4G networks, commitments to the rollout of 5G services, and increased planning for submarine cable infrastructure will all contribute to the capacity of communications networks to meet demand.”

This year’s report indicates that fixed-line phone subscriptions are down 4%, while mobile subscriptions are up 2.6% and internet subscriptions up 4.5%, but fixed-line accounts for the overwhelming majority of data traffic.

Also, much of that data usage has been driven by the increasing popularity of catch-up and subscription video options, particularly video content downloads, rather than growth in the number of device plans.

The ACMA report says 63% of Australians watch online content (up from 53% last year). OTT video services such as subscription video on demand (SVOD), free-to-air (FTA) live streaming and catch-up services continue to attract increasing numbers of subscribers (2.7 million paid or free trial subscriptions in the past two years).

Key stats + graphics [all charts via ACMA]

Digital data downloading and traffic is driving profound changes across all the key enabling elements of the communications sector—infrastructure, devices, services and content:

  • The volume of data downloaded continues to increase, with a 52% rise in total volume from 1.5 million to 2.2 million terabytes between the June 2015 and June 2016 quarters
  • Data download volumes have more than doubled in the last two years, with a 114% increase in total volume: from 1 million to 2.2 million terabytes between the June 2014 and June 2016 quarters
  • The majority of data downloaded is done over fixed-line broadband, accounting for 92% of total volume of data downloaded as at June 2016
  • The volume of data downloaded over mobile handsets increased by 69% between the June 2015 and June 2016 quarters.
Volume of data downloaded

The shift to mobile-phone only households continues – 31%, or approximately 5.78 million Australians, have a mobile phone and no fixed-line telephone at home.

Mobile phone and no fixed-line telephone
Mobile phone and no fixed-line telephone

In 2015–16, continued investment in infrastructure was evident from the roll-out of the NBN to the expansion of 4G mobile networks and plans to increase submarine cable capacity to connect Australia with the rest of the world:

  • The number of premises activated on the NBN network increased by 126% to over one million
  • 4G mobile networks expanded to cover up to 98% of the population
  • Increased interest in the submarine cable infrastructure connecting Australia to the rest of the world.

Data traffic appears to be driven more by increasing intensity of usage, particularly video content downloading, rather than significant growth in device subscriptions:

  • In the six months to May 2016, 91% of adult Australians had accessed the internet
  • Of those adult Australians who went online, 68% accessed the internet several times a day
  • In the six months to June 2016, 63% of adult Australians watched online video content
  • Of those online, 72% of watched video content and 57% listened to audio content online.
Online content watched
Online content watched

The data-driven shift had a notable impact on the services market through the changing profile of service subscriptions and increased demand for subscription video on demand services:

  • Catch-up television and SVOD watching is popular among 44% and 32% of Australians respectively
  • SVOD and streaming service offerings continued to expand but other online video on demand services ceased in 2015–16
  • SVOD services are now an established part of the Australian media landscape, recording around 2.7 million paid, free or trial subscriptions as at June 2016.

Content delivery and the changing viewing behaviors by Australians are driving significant developments not only in the online content and broadcasting sectors, but more broadly across the communications industry:

  • There has been a gradual decline in FTA television viewing over the last six years, with 84% of Australian adults in the five major cities watching at least five minutes of FTA television in an average week in 2015–16, compared to 89% in 2010–11. Regional markets have seen a decline in audience viewing from 87% to 81%
  • Despite the decline in time spent with broadcast content, watching FTA television live still represents the largest share (59%) of the weekly average time spent watching television or video content (excluding pre-recorded DVDs) among Australian adults
  • Watching professionally produced online content accounted for 15% of time spent, and watching Foxtel live (at the time of broadcast) accounted for 14%
  • Netflix is more popular than YouTube as an online source for professional video content.
  • Almost 60% of consumers aged 65 and over had watched ABC’s iView in the last seven days, while only 19% watched 9Now. Plus7 was the most watched service for younger Australians aged 18 to 34.
Share of time spent watching video content
Share of time spent watching video content
Time spent watching FTA and online content
Time spent watching FTA and online content

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