Ofcom: BBC sustainability at risk as ‘lost generation’ switches off

The BBC risks a “lost generation” of younger viewers as its reach among 16-24 drops below 50% for the first time, according to Ofcom’s latest annual report on the public broadcaster.

The regulator said that the pubcaster will face a threat to its future sustainability if it cannot engage young people sufficiently.

Ofcom’s study of BBC viewership found that only 49% of young people aged 16-24 tuned into BBC TV channels in an average week, falling to 46% among males.

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.

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%.

Among the youngest viewers, the proportion of children aged 4-6 who watch CBeebies each week fell, from 39% to 34%.

Ofcom also found that only 23% of 16-24 year-olds watched BBC TV news during 2018, a drop of over a third in just five years, with 76% now using social media for news.

BBC Three, the BBC’s youth-orientated online channel, has meanwhile seen its reach halve since moving online compared to its last full year of broadcasting.

While these problems are not unique to the BBC, the regulator said that initiatives launched by the pubcaster so far to bridge the gap were not far-reaching enough and called for the broadcaster to set out a more detailed plan for improving how it represents and portrays the whole of UK society, including less satisfied groups.

While the regulator hailed initiatives such as the launch of BBC Sounds and – perhaps ironically in view of how long it took to secure approval – making changes to BBC iPlayer to attract a younger audience, it said that “the absence of a clearly articulated and transparent plan” made it difficult to assess how much progress was being made.

Ofcom also said it had concerns about how the the BBC is delivering against requirements on diversity, and how it is reporting this to Ofcom.

The corporation recently appointed broadcaster June Sarpong as its first director of cultural diversity to address some of the concerns.

“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,” said outgoing Ofcom CEO Sharon White.

“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.”