30 November 2023

Working class audiences want the BBC to take more risks when producing new programmes

The BBC should take more risks when producing new programmes if it is to reconnect with viewers and listeners on lower incomes, according to new audience research published today by Ofcom.

In recent years, our research has shown that people in lower socio-economic groups – who account for almost a quarter of the UK population – are less satisfied with the BBC. So we have carried out an in-depth review to understand why this might be, speaking to viewers and listeners from these groups from across the UK.

What we found

Working-class audiences watch more TV than anyone else – 3 hours 44 minutes a day on average, compared to 1 hour 57 minutes among middle-class viewers – and the BBC remains an important part of their media habit, accounting for a quarter (26%) of their viewing time.

However, many of the people we spoke to feel that the BBC’s programming is too dry and serious compared to other services. Instead, many turn to social media and podcasts to find newer voices that relate, more authentically, to their real-life experiences.

People in our focus groups expressed a distinct preference for streaming services, due to their hyper-personalised libraries of content which they can watch at their convenience. Streaming services and social media are also seen to offer more engaging and light-hearted content which better meets their needs for escapism and companionship.

Participants also felt there was little representation on the BBC of what they called “normal, working-class lives”. Even when they did see ‘people like them’ represented in BBC programmes, they felt the portrayal often reverted to stereotypes or ‘tokenist’ characterisations.

Connection with BBC not lost

Despite these challenges, our study shows that audiences from lower income households still retain a connection with the BBC. Many participants rate the BBC’s news offering, while others still consider it the home for coverage of big, milestone events that bring the nation together.

Programmes such as EastEnders, Match of the Day and Strictly Come Dancing are recognised as popular programmes, although among some, there was a sense that the BBC is increasingly reliant on established programmes and formats.

Overwhelmingly, people in the study want to see the BBC taking greater risks in producing new content and making sure audiences know about the variety of programmes available. Some observe that the BBC’s reputation for classic archive programmes may risk audiences overlooking its newer programming, while others feel felt that the BBC could do more targeted marketing to promote fresh content.

The BBC will be aware of many of the challenges and issues raised in our study and is responding by commissioning more content that it believes will be of greater appeal to audiences from lower income homes. The BBC should carefully monitor whether this new content is cutting through and consider what further action may be needed to better satisfy their needs.

We will continue to monitor perceptions of representation and portrayal as part of our ongoing performance assessment of the BBC.

Annual Report on the BBC

Ofcom has also today published its sixth Annual Report on the BBC’s performance covering the period April 2022 to March 2023.

Our report finds that the BBC is generally performing well in delivering its Mission and Public Purposes. It also finds that, as audiences continue to move online, the BBC is having to adapt to meet their needs and expectations. This means it is having to make difficult choices to reduce spend in some areas – including local radio – in order to reinvest in online services, as it moves to become a ‘digital-first’ organisation.

As it does so, we are closely monitoring the impact of these changes and will hold the BBC to account on behalf of all audiences, including those who rely on traditional broadcast services. We will report on the impact of the BBC’s changes to local radio in next year’s Annual Report on the BBC. This will allow time for the changes to be fully implemented so that any impacts on audiences can be properly assessed.

More broadly, we are carrying out a review into what audiences across the UK value about local media. We expect to publish the findings from this local media review by the end of 2024.

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