Press release

6 May 2021 London, GB

Digital home services boom fuels UK consumer anxiety around well-being and data privacy, finds EY study

Digital home services boom fuels UK consumer anxiety around well-being and data privacy, finds EY study

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Annabel Banks

Manager, Media Relations, Ernst & Young LLP

A highly experienced communications professional with cross-sector experience in media relations having worked with global brands spanning elite professional services firms to digital start-ups.

Related topics TMT Digital Telecommunications
  • 43% of UK households have seen their connectivity and streaming needs increase since the start of the pandemic
  • 41% of UK households are more concerned about the impact of the internet on well-being than they were pre-pandemic
  • Digital fatigue drives 46% to seek downtime from internet enabled devices
  • Value-consciousness prevails: 40% believe they pay too much for content

Growing reliance on the digital home has inevitably driven a surge in online behaviours during the COVID-19 pandemic. But rising service adoption is also marked by an increase in consumer fears around digital well-being, which demands an urgent shift in approach from providers. 

This is according to the EY study, Decoding the digital home, which evaluates consumer attitudes to digital connectivity, technology and content consumption in the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the US.

The UK survey of 2,500 respondents finds households adopted a range of services for the first time during national lockdowns. Video calling leads with a 27% rise in adoption, while online health services (up 20%) and education (16%) have also grown exponentially. Forty-three percent of respondents say their internet connectivity needs as well as their TV and streaming needs have increased.

In striking parallel, this trajectory is tempered by rising anxiety; 41% of UK households are more concerned about the impact of the internet on well-being than they were pre-pandemic, while 71% are very cautious about disclosing personal data online. This uptick in concern is particularly pronounced among younger age groups – the UK’s 25-34 year-olds are more concerned than before about data disclosure (54%) than 45-54 year-olds (30%). 

Praveen Shankar, EY UK & Ireland Head of Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT), says:

“The pandemic has changed the landscape of products and services consumed by households. On the one hand, there is now evidence that digital inclusion has improved, with connectivity and content providers acting as a critical platform for socio-economic interaction. However, long periods spent at home have seen made households anxious about their relationship to the online world. Service providers should build more trusted relationships with their customers in order to ensure that positive adoption trends continue.”

The correlation between demand and anxiety is most pronounced among UK households with young children –  64% noted that their connectivity needs have increased (vs an average of 43% across all respondents) and 57% more likely to consider the impact of the internet on well-being (vs an average of 41%).

Content overload and distrust

Many UK households are now at saturation point according to the survey. Forty-six percent of respondents say they seek downtime from smartphones and other internet enabled devices, while 23% would like to reduce the number of streaming platforms they use. Similarly, 46% believe there is too much choice across available connectivity and content bundles.

The survey also unearths concerns around consumer trust. More than a third (34%) of respondents are very concerned about the possibility of encountering harmful content online and 57% of households favour very tight regulation of the internet. Thirty-three percent are also wary about using 5G mobile, despite government reassurances. Once again, younger users stand out with 45% and 47% of 25-34 year-olds saying they are sensitive to harmful content and 5G usage concerns respectively.

Cost saving mindset thwarts positive spending intentions

In some cases, the pandemic has been a catalyst for increased spending intentions, with 24% agreeing that the crisis has made upgrading to 5G more appealing and 22% of customers now receptive to paying a premium for Super HD content. But concerns around the need to control costs are more pronounced than the appetite to upgrade. Forty percent of respondents believe they already pay too much for content, and half (50%) say their household’s priority is to spend as little as possible on communication services. Overall, 41% of UK households do not believe their broadband provider does enough to ensure they are on the best deal.  

Adrian Baschnonga, EY Global Telecommunications Lead Analyst, says:

“Providers must not take the goodwill they have generated during the pandemic for granted. Demand for connectivity and content has risen but is overshadowed by deep-rooted desire for value alongside signs of fatigue with the digital world. To thrive in the future, they need to provide simple and intuitive services that reduce the sense of overload felt by consumers and offer better rationales for spending more. Providers that work together to solve digital well-being challenges stand to win in the market.”