The one about Friends still being most popular

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Friends, the US sitcom that finished almost 15 years ago, is still the favourite TV programme for young people in the UK, according to an annual survey of media consumed by the young.

But it’s likely to be viewed on Netflix and many will be watching on mobile phones rather than a TV screen.

Few of the five to 16-year-olds surveyed were even alive when the show was first broadcast, between 1994-2004.

But the Childwise report says the comedy is their favourite programme.

The show, about the ups and downs of a friendship group in New York, is now watched very differently from when it was first seen in the 1990s.

Binge viewing

The theme tune says “I’ll be there for you”, and for young viewers it is always there for them, available in back-to-back episodes on streaming services such as Netflix.

Among those watching on demand, four in five are using their phones.

The researchers think the popularity of Friends for this age group is a combination of the subject matter and how they like to consume programmes.

The “focus on friendships and relationships is relatable to teens”, say the researchers.

And they enjoy working their way through episodes, with the next starting automatically when one finishes.

“They can watch it virtually whenever and wherever they like, from beginning to end in order.”

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Chris Haston

Image caption

Some of the cast reunited for a TV tribute special in 2016

This 25th annual analysis of media habits, based on a survey of 2,000 young people, says this is now “generation scroll” – in which most viewing is through mobile internet devices, whether a phone, laptop or tablet computer.

Unlike the characters in Friends, these young people are less likely to be watching scheduled programmes on a television screen with someone else.

The report says even the concept of a “favourite programme” is being eroded, by what it calls a “glut of choice and the transient nature of content”.

Connected but lonely

The study shows young people growing up immersed in digital technology – spending on average three hours per day online.

Almost 40% are regularly using the internet when they are outside, as well as being connected at home.

About seven in 10 of this age group had used Netflix in the previous week.

YouTube is the most dominant website and the gateway to music and video, followed in popularity by Snapchat.

But Facebook has fallen by half in the proportion of young people saying it is their favourite website, compared with last year’s survey.

A quarter of these young people are in families with Alexa-style voice-activated computer assistants.

But there are also signs of online fatigue.

At the older end of the age range, among 15 to 16-year-olds, there were suggestions that teenagers wanted to “unplug”, with about three in 10 wanting to spend more time off the internet.

Excessive use of social media was associated with loss of sleep, tiredness and also loneliness.

“Children are more digitally connected than any other generation and more so than last year. Yet as connectivity increases, rather than feeling more linked to their peers, children are increasingly feeling alone and isolated,” says research director Simon Leggett.

“They are spending time alone in their bedrooms, scrolling through digital content, watching the lives of others unfold, talking via texts and messages, connecting on Instagram and Snapchat rather than going to a friend’s house after school or simply hanging out together offline,” said Mr Leggett.

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