The BBC may not be sustainable in its current form, if it fails to regain younger audiences who are increasingly tuning out of its services.
Ofcom’s annual report on the BBC, published today, assesses the corporation’s performance over the period April 2018 to March 2019.
It found that the BBC is generally serving viewers and listeners well, through the breadth and quality of its programmes. People’s satisfaction with the BBC remains high – comparing well with other TV and radio broadcasters.
But like many broadcasters, the BBC is vulnerable to a rapidly changing media landscape. The corporation has acknowledged it is struggling to engage and retain younger audiences, and it is working to address this – such as by launching BBC Sounds and making programmes available for longer on iPlayer.
Ofcom’s findings show that the BBC must do much more to connect with today’s children and younger adults – through relevant, appealing, and well-placed content – or it could lose a generation of potential licence-fee payers.
Ofcom’s annual report on the BBC sets out the nature of the challenge it faces.
- Last year, for the first time, less than half (49%) of young people aged 16-24 tuned into BBC TV channels in an average week. Among males in this age group, it was 46%.
- People aged 16-34 spent an average of one hour and 12 minutes with the BBC every day – five minutes less than the previous year, and half as much time as audiences overall.
- After several years of stability, the proportion of children aged 4-6 who watch CBeebies each week fell, from 39% to 34%.
- BBC iPlayer’s reach of 15-24 year olds fell from 28% to 26%, while Netflix saw its younger audience increase from 56% to 66%.
- The amount of time 18-24 year-olds spent each day on BBC websites dropped by a quarter, from 2 minutes 43 seconds each day, to 2 minutes.
Similar challenges are revealed in Ofcom’s review of BBC news and current affairs, also published today. The review gathered views from audiences across the UK, and involved innovative, detailed research on how people get their news.
Ofcom’s review finds that the BBC remains the UK’s primary news source, and has maintained its reputation for trusted and accurate reporting. In a time of increased fake news and disinformation, BBC news is still the place people go for a reliable take on events, particularly breaking stories.
However, they found that younger audiences are turning away from BBC news and current affairs, increasingly using social media and news ‘aggregator’ services – such as Apple News or Upday – where the BBC is just one of many sources. Among 16-24 year-olds:
- Less than a quarter (23%) watched BBC TV news during 2018, a drop of over a third in just five years.
- Fewer than one in 10 (8%) watched current affairs across BBC TV, around half the proportion who watched five years ago. In contrast, more than three quarters (76%) now use social media for news.
- Younger people in our research questioned how far BBC news coverage was ‘talking to them’, rather than older generations.
The BBC is also struggling to reach other groups within the UK, today’s reports find.
The research shows that some people – such as older women and those from lower socio-economic groups – continue to be dissatisfied with how they are portrayed on the BBC. People in Scotland and those aged over-65 have similar concerns.
Similarly, the report on BBC news shows that some people see it as representing a white, middle class and London-centric point of view that is not relevant to their lives.
More widely, however, the BBC is still performing well on editorial standards and output. In the vast majority of cases that we considered during the year, the BBC is meeting the standards of Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code, as well as our regulatory conditions.
Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “The BBC is still a vital, valued part of British culture. But we’re concerned that a new generation is tuning out of its services. So the BBC must set out bolder plans to connect with younger viewers and listeners. We also want the BBC to broaden the appeal of its news, which some viewers and listeners feel isn’t relevant to their lives. And the BBC must find ways to be more distinctive online, where our research shows younger people are passing it by.”
Alongside today’s reports, Ofcom has written to the BBC’s Director-General to set out our main findings. We will liaise with him over the next few months on our concerns so that he can ensure that they are fully taken account of by the BBC Board.