2020: Record-breaking data year, claims Virgin Media

In 2020, the nation consumed a record-breaking amount of data, tuned into more TV, and spent longer on the phone, based on analysis of more than six million Virgin Media cable and mobile customers.

Customers downloaded an extra 2.8GB of data per day on average in 2020, and between them, burnt their way through 26,530 petabytes (26,530 million gigabytes) of data – in this record-breaking year for broadband use.

When it comes to upload traffic, Virgin Media’s network saw data use jump up by 64% across the year, driven by people working from home, connecting with loved ones on video calls and playing online video games.

The nation turned to the small screen, with households spending an extra 21 hours on average watching TV each month – equivalent to 10 full days per year and enough to watch all four series of The Crown six times over.

During a year that forced people to keep apart from friends and family, the length of an average mobile phone call also shot up by 28%, with Virgin Mobile customers collectively spending an extra 1,605 years on the phone compared to last year.

The same trend rang true for landline calls, with the amount of time spent on the traditional ‘home phone’ up by 21% this year.

Despite people spending more time at home, mobile data usage increased by nearly a quarter (23%) in 2020, with the biggest amount of data used on 11 December.

  • Virgin Media customers downloaded an extra 2.8GB of data per day on average in 2020, making it the busiest year ever for home broadband use
  • November was the busiest month on record for network traffic, driven by the second national lockdown, launch of next-generation consoles and major game releases
  • Households spent an extra 21+ hours watching TV each month, with news channels seeing the biggest increase during this tumultuous year
  • Mobile phone calls were 28% longer than last year as the nation stayed connected from afar, with calls lasting nearly twice as long (up 87%) during the early part of the first national lockdown
  • The time spent on landline calls increased by 21% compared to last year
  • Despite more time spent at home, mobile data usage shot up by nearly a quarter (23%)

Record-breaking broadband

While data use has been consistently high throughout 2020, the second national lockdown, the launch of two next-generation games consoles and the return of rugby with the Autumn Nations Cup meant Virgin Media saw its busiest month of broadband traffic on record in November.

During November, customers downloaded an average of 17.3GB per day – enough to stream six hours of HD TV, send and receive 900 emails, play three hours of online games, as well as spending hours browsing the web and social media channels – all in the space of 24 hours.

The busiest day ever was on Tuesday 10 November when a total of 108 Petabytes of data was consumed, linked to the launch of the Xbox Series X/S consoles and games including Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.

It’s good to talk 

With people having to stay at home and socially distance, the nation picked up the phone more than before.

The most mobile calls were made on 17 March, shortly after the Prime Minister’s address to the nation about the national lockdown, with calls during this part of early lockdown lasting nearly twice as long (87%) as before.

The most landline calls were made the next day, on 18 March, with the amount of time spent on fixed-line phone calls increasing by 21% since last year.

The number of texts exchanged also increased by 72% during the second half of March.

News matters 

After an unprecedented year, staying up to date with world events became essential to people across the country. As a result, the viewing share of news channels increased by 56% compared to last year.

During the US presidential election, viewers shifted in their droves to CNN which became the second most-watched news channel after the BBC, with its viewing share increasing four times as people tuned in to see the latest results.

Documentaries and factual shows also soared in popularity in 2020 with viewership up by 23% in lockdown, and 12% year on year.

Small screen entertainment prevailed

While news channels saw the biggest increase since last year, customers turned to entertainment for some light-hearted relief.

Traditional TV viewing on Virgin Media’s network was up by 8% in 2020, with the third episode of BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing being the most viewed TV moment of the year, pipping ITV’s I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! to the crown.

Paddington 2 was the most popular movie on TV, while England’s victory over Ireland during the international football friendly on 12 November was the most viewed sports moment of the year to date.

Meanwhile, streaming and on-demand viewing time leapt by 26%, with Sky One’s Brassic topping the list of most popular boxsets, closely followed by BulletproofCode 404 and Manifest.

April and May were record-breaking months for boxsets with nearly twice as many views when compared to 2019 (up 90%).

Regional broadband trends

During the record-breaking month of November, data usage varied significantly between regions. Customers in Northern Ireland top the table for overall traffic during the busiest 8pm-10pm period, with the North West experiencing the biggest growth when compared to last year (44% increase).

When it comes to upload traffic, Londoners churned through the most data in November and the biggest increase in 2020 was seen in the East of England (23% increase).

Says Jeff Dodds, Chief Operating Officer at Virgin Media: 

 “After an extraordinary year we’ve seen unprecedented demand for our services across the board; whether that’s broadband traffic, binge-worthy box sets or people picking up the phone to check in with friends and family.

“The unexpected shift towards working, living, learning and socialising from home drove record-breaking traffic on our network and we provided a lifeline in lockdown.

“Staying connected, informed, and entertained is more important than ever, and despite the additional demand and challenges we’ve faced this year, our network has played a key role in keeping the country connected to the things and people that matter most.”

Chris Price