Internet-savvy Britons lead digital league

Britons emerge as a nation of gadget-savvy internet junkies - spending more time than the rest of Europe browsing the internet, social networking and playing video games - in new research by the communications regulator.

The UK also leads a comparison of 12 industrialised nations in digital television take-up and use of digital video recorders.

Its appetite for technology was driven by relatively low prices for TV and internet services, the report by Ofcom, the communications regulator, found.

The UK offers the cheapest mobile, basic pay-TV and broadband "bundles", at £104 per month for a typical family household. Broadband take-up, at 60 per cent, is above the average in developed nations.

Digital music now makes up 8 per cent of the total music sales market, level with Spain and ahead of the rest of Europe but still well behind the US, where almost a quarter of sales are digital. A third of the UK population listens to the radio online at home, just behind France at 37 per cent.

The UK is the European leader in social networking, with 50 per cent using sites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace - up 11 percentage points since last year. Uploading photos to the web is the most popular activity, pursued by 43 per cent of the population, with 59 per cent using their mobiles as still cameras. Canadians, however, are the world's most active social networkers with 55 per cent take-up.

While UK mobile phone usage is among the world's highest, 3G has not yet become mainstream. Mobile operators have invested heavily to roll out a high-speed 3G mobile network, so that 87 per cent of the population can now use so-called "high-speed packet access" wireless broadband. But only 17 per cent of mobiles in use can access 3G networks.

Given the high level of digital activity, 19 per cent of advertising spending is now online, with only Sweden coming close to that proportion. But for the moment that is not coming at the expense of television.

"Right now it's hard to prove the case for cannibalisation from traditional broadcast media to the internet," said Peter Philips, partner for strategy and market developments at Ofcom. "But what we can say is that broadcast-based advertising media haven't been benefiting from the overall growth in the market."

Ofcom also found that for the first time advertising represented less than half of television income.

The report does not track the rapid growth this year of watching television online, where the US and UK are among the pioneers. After the success of its iPlayer online video service, the BBC announced yesterday that licence fee payers would be able to watch BBC One and BBC Two live online from November 27.

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