Ofcom: BBC must do 'much more' for young audiences

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A BBC cameraman

The BBC needs to do "much more" to attract younger audiences to its services, according to Ofcom's annual report on the corporation.

But, the regulator added, the BBC still plays a central role in the audiences' media and news consumption.

Ofcom's head Sharon White said some viewers felt certain services were "not relevant to their lives".

In response, the BBC said it had a "clear plan to meet the needs of younger and diverse audiences".

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White 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."

She added the BBC needs 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."

The report also said the BBC will face a "threat to its future sustainability" if it cannot "engage young people sufficiently".

It added: "This will undermine the BBC's ability to fund content to deliver its mission and public purposes."

What will the BBC do?

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Broadcaster and writer June Sarpong has been appointed the BBC's first director of creative diversity

In a statement, a spokesman for the BBC responded by saying the corporation welcomed "Ofcom's recognition that audience satisfaction remains high and that the BBC continues to deliver for British audiences".

He added the BBC's strategy to meet the needs of younger and diverse audiences was outlined in this year's Annual Plan, and focuses on:

  • BBC iPlayer
  • BBC Sounds
  • BBC News Online

The spokesman said all three have "grown strongly in the last year, so our plan is clearly working".

He added: "But we want to do even more for young and diverse audiences and we will set out our next steps in our [next] Annual Plan."

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
The BBC has tried to attract young audiences with shows such as RuPaul's Drag Race UK

Over the last year, the BBC has commissioned several programmes which are clearly intended to particularly appeal to a young audience - such as RuPaul's Drag Race UK and Little Mix star Jesy Nelson's documentary about body image.

The corporation has also experimented with uploading full box sets of its drama series, such as Killing Eve, so viewers can binge-watch them as they do with other streaming services.

Younger audiences and news

The report dealt with several services specifically, including the corporation's news output.

Ofcom said news output is seen by some as "representing a white, middle-class and London-centric point of view that is not relevant to their lives".

It continued: "For some whom we spoke to, the BBC is just 'one of many' online news providers."

The regulator said its research into BBC news and current affairs found that young viewers were increasingly consuming their news via social media and aggregator services.

It added that when people find their news this way their engagement is typically "fleeting" and that they usually only read a headline or brief paragraph before moving on.

Image caption,
Stacey Dooley went to northern Syria for Panorama

However, it also said: "One aspect of BBC news that did resonate with 16-24 year olds was 'opinion-led' journalism. People within our research regularly cited programmes presented by Stacey Dooley and Reggie Yates as standout examples of this.

The report said 16-24-year-olds said "this type of journalism helped them to make sense of the world and was presented in a more engaging way that they could relate to".

What about diversity?

The regulator also highlighted a "perceived lack of diversity in BBC reporters and presenters".

"The BBC should better represent the whole of the UK with authentic news and current affairs content that feels relevant and engaging to all audiences," it said.

Earlier this month, the BBC made efforts to improve things in this area by appointing June Sarpong as the corporation's first director of creative diversity.

'Lack of transparency'

In one of its main findings, the Ofcom report stated the corporation's editorial complaints process lacks transparency.

It highlighted the corporation's recent reversal of the decision to partially uphold a complaint against the BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty, who had expressed an opinion on comments made by President Trump.

Image caption,
Ofcom questioned the BBC's handling of the Naga Munchetty ruling

"We consider that the way in which the BBC has handled the recent Naga Munchetty case highlights that it should provide more transparency on the reasons for its findings on compliance with its editorial guidelines which reflect the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.

"We will be addressing the BBC's lack of transparency in this area as a matter of urgency".

Next steps for BBC

Ofcom concluded it expects the BBC to "now set out publicly" its plan for addressing the following "recurring themes":

  • engagement with young people
  • representation and portrayal
  • commitment to transparency
  • commitment to new original UK programmes
  • how it will engage with the recommendations of review of news and current affairs.

It added: "This will enable audiences to see for themselves, and for us to be able to judge, whether the BBC is taking appropriate steps...

" If we do not see transparent signs of progress, we will step in and place additional conditions on the BBC."

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