5 minute read 2 Apr 2020
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7 impacts of COVID-19 on the UK digital household

By

Praveen Shankar

EY UK&I Technology, Media and Telecommunications Sector Leader

Broad experience in transformation and operations, driving the 5G agenda, focused on tackling the most pressing and complex business and technology challenges in the industry.

5 minute read 2 Apr 2020
Related topics TMT COVID-19 Tech sector

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Insights on how households are changing their digital habits and attitudes since the COVID-19 outbreak

New EY research conducted between 26 - 30 March 2020, of 2,000 UK households explores how perceptions, habits and needs of technology, media and telecoms (TMT) products and services have been impacted in light of COVID-19.

Key insights

1. Telcos are seen as critical infrastructure for society and the economy during these challenging times

We may have not acknowledged enough the vital role telcos have been playing since the start of the COVID-19 situation. From ensuring that the digital infrastructure can keep the UK connected during the elevated period of home working, to ensuring consumers can access critical online services by lifting data caps or adjusting their packaging and pricing – TMT companies are indispensable.

The survey recognises this, with 75% and 73% of consumers respectively believing broadband and mobile providers are coping well  and only 7% and 5% voicing negative perceptions, despite the unprecedented pressure on their network. Now more than ever, telcos are establishing their place as a critical pillar in keeping the country running and should be appreciated for this. 

Positive views of broadband providers

75%

of consumers believe broadband providers are coping well

Positive views of mobile providers

73%

of consumers believe mobile providers are coping well

2. Network reliability and resilience is more important than speed in this critical time

Network reliability and resilience is currently top of mind among consumers. Broadband and mobile providers’ ability to ensure robust connectivity is consumers’ top priority, with only 12% disagreeing and believing speed is more important.

The ability to sustain and enhance network performance will be critical in the months to come. Telcos have an opportunity to reformulate their proposition to focus on reliability, not only speed. Seventeen percent say they would be happy to spend more for a robust and reliable service. Apart from analysing their own network, telcos will need to work more closely with other industry stakeholders to model and understand the forecast of network traffic to design and deploy robust future network infrastructure. 

3. 5G and full-fibre offerings are still not resonating with households

Despite the rising importance of resilient networks, consumer interest in more sophisticated connectivity offerings remains low. Just 8% of consumers believe that the COVID-19 situation has made them realise they need to upgrade to full-fibre broadband, while only 11% think that the crisis has made 5G mobile services more appealing to purchase.

Low interest in 5G

11%

say the crisis has made 5G mobile services more appealing to purchase

Low interest in full-fibre broadband

8%

believe the situation has made them realise they need to upgrade to full-fibre broadband

This underlines the need for service providers to do more to communicate the benefits these services can provide to the consumer. Despite the race to launch these new services, the research shows the road map for rollout and the technology enhancements have not been communicated well.

4. COVID-19 has forced a step-change in households’ digital activity and readiness to engage digitally with their providers

COVID-19 has forced a dramatic acceleration in digital service adoption, with many people trying online services for the first time due to the crisis. Video calling shows the largest uptick, with 18% trying this for the first time, ahead of online shopping (9%) and consumption of catch-up TV (9%).

However, challenges are also appearing, with many households who have contacted customer services during the crisis saying they have had a poor experience. Looking ahead, 46% would be happy to use automated customer service and virtual assistants – therein lies a huge opportunity for the TMT providers to improve customer experience and significantly reduce costs by leveraging Intelligent automation and AI.

Video calling is on the rise

18%

are trying video calling for the first time

Readiness to engage digitally

46%

would be happy to use automated customer service and virtual assistants

5. Spending levels are under scrutiny and further volatility may lie ahead

Despite signs of willingness to spend more for a robust and reliable service, there are some signs of belt-tightening among households, with 15% trying to spend less on communications and content services as a result of the situation. At the same time, more than three in four households think their current packages are sufficient to meet their needs during the crisis – 77% for TV/streaming services, 79% for broadband packages and 81% for mobile packages.

Additionally, the expectation of the payment waivers and free services may evolve into a more enduring customer demand, one that outlasts the crisis itself. TMT providers need to focus strongly on how they will differentiate themselves and clearly articulate messages which will resonate with consumers.

6. Public service channels have stepped-up to respond to the desire for trusted content

Rarely has the thirst for news been greater among UK consumers. Half of those in the survey confirmed they are currently seeking more news and information, trying to keep abreast of the latest developments. Public service broadcasters (PSBs) are benefitting from the desire for quality, with 41% of consumers relying more heavily on them for news content.

As consumers hope to quench their thirst for news, by far the preferred source is the UK’s PSBs – BBC, ITV, Channel4 and Five. The breadth and depth of their coverage as well as their objectivity gives the PSBs this uniquely trusted status and over three quarters of those surveyed (77%) think they are coping well with the situation. This is a great opportunity for the PSBs to reinvent themselves by building upon this trust and making the most of these higher levels of engagement.

Positive views of Public service broadcasters

77%

think Public service broadcasters are coping well with the situation

7. Social media is struggling to manage the flurry of fake news

In contrast to public service channels, social media is struggling to avoid the perception that it remains an outlet for fake news. Two thirds of consumers (67%) believe social media platforms should be doing more to police fake news. Additionally, 52% believe the government and regulators also have a responsibility to take more stringent action. 

An inherent scepticism about what is posted online is increasingly matched by consumers’ desire for action. If social media platforms want to build higher levels of trust among users, they will need to take firmer action. 

Summary

Overall, consumer sentiments towards TMT providers during the crisis are positive at this stage, but with rapidly changing demands in an increasingly volatile landscape, they need to continuously engage with their customers and respond with both agility and focus.

Look out for additional insights, which will be shared in the coming weeks. Please reach out to me if you would like any further information on the results or would like to discuss in more detail.

About this article

By

Praveen Shankar

EY UK&I Technology, Media and Telecommunications Sector Leader

Broad experience in transformation and operations, driving the 5G agenda, focused on tackling the most pressing and complex business and technology challenges in the industry.

Related topics TMT COVID-19 Tech sector