Reaching a younger audience online must be a “clear priority” for the BBC, a new report has warned, as the Beeb faces growing competition from Netflix and other streaming services.
The BBC has been at the forefront of the changing media landscape in the UK, with iPlayer one of the most used streaming services in the country. Now nine years old, it is used by 13 per cent of all adults every week, ranking joint top with Netflix. However, among 16-34 year olds, iPlayer is used by 21 per cent, second to Netflix’s growing platform.
The growth in rival VOD players arrives as the way that people consume media changes. Indeed, the reach of BBC TV has fallen, from 89 per cent to 82 per cent over the past five years. BBC radio’s broadcast reach has also fallen slightly, from 68 per cent to 65 per cent. While the Beeb’s online audience has risen from 41 per cent in 2011 to 52 per cent in 2016, though, growth of BBC online has slowed in the past couple of years, which means that the breadth of use of flagship online services, such as iPlayer, is lower than might be expected.
These are the findings of a final report by the BBC Trust, before it is replaced by the new BBC Board.
“If the audience reach of broadcast services continues to fall, then use of BBC online must grow, or the BBC’s ability to serve all audiences will be challenged,” cautions the report from the outgoing governing body.
Age is a crucial part of that battle. Most young people in the UK use the BBC each week: in 2016, the BBC reached 91 per cent of 16-34 year olds However, younger people’s consumption of media is evolving, so while BBC television’s overall reach among UK adults remains high at 82 per cent, its reach among 16-34 year olds is 66 per cent in 2016.
The BBC’s online services are used more by younger adults: 59 per cent of young people use them each week, compared to 52 per cent of all adults, but that take-up still does not compensate for falling broadcast reach. The differences between age groups in the average time spent consuming BBC services is more marked: while the average time spent with the BBC among people over 55 is almost 25 hours, for 16-34 year olds, the average is 11 hours a week.
The BBC is still the most used media provider for young people, but the broadcast will face a “significant challenge to hold their attention”, warns the BBC Trust.
The difference is even more striking when you compare the average age of users: in 2014, the Trust reported that the average (median) age of viewer of BBC One and BBC Two has risen to 59 and 60 respectively. As of 2016, this has risen to 61 and 62 respectively.
“We recommended that these services should seek to improve their offer to younger viewers in order to rebalance their appeal,” concludes the BBC Trust’s report.
The publication arrives in the year after BBC Three was moved from linear TV to an online-first channel, which was partly driven by budgetary pressures and partly by a strategy to build a presence online among younger people. Last week, BBC Three was named Channel of the Year by the Royal Television Society Awards, recognising its diverse, challenging, innovative output.
“There are already some positive indicators in preliminary performance reports, but it is too early to judge the success of the change objectively,” says the Trust. “The BBC has committed to a full review of BBC Three as an online service before June 2017 and they have told us that they expect this review to have a published outcome.”
“The challenge facing the BBC in serving younger audiences is becoming more acute,” concludes the Trust. “Addressing this challenge will have to be a clear priority for the new BBC Board.”