BBC risking ‘lost generation’ as younger audience tunes out

24 October 2019

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 looks at its performance between April 2018 and March 2019. It found that the BBC is generally serving viewers and listeners well, and people are satisfied with it.

But like many broadcasters, the BBC is vulnerable to a rapidly changing media landscape and it must do much more to connect with children and young adults, or it could lose a generation of potential licence-fee payers.

The scale of the BBC’s challenge

Our report highlights the challenge the BBC 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. Viewing time is falling among young adults and children, and use of iPlayer by this group fell while Netflix’s reach grew.

Similar challenges are revealed in our review of BBC news and current affairs, also published today. We gathered views from audiences across the UK, looking at how people get their news.

We found 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, younger audiences are turning away from BBC news and current affairs, increasingly using social media and services such as Apple News or Upday. Younger people’s viewing of BBC news and current affairs programmes has fallen over the past five years, while this group also questioned how far BBC news coverage was ‘talking to them’, rather than older viewers.

Reaching other audiences

The BBC is also struggling to reach other groups within the UK.

Some groups are unhappy with how they are portrayed on the BBC, while some feel BBC news programmes represents a white, middle class and London-centric point of view that is not relevant to their lives.

What we expect the BBC to do

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.”

We expect the BBC to go further in its work to reach younger people, broaden its appeal, engage younger audiences online, be bolder in how it achieves due impartiality, improve its transparency and better support other news sites.