Ofcom: BBC services such as iPlayer an afterthought for younger audiences

Jim Waterson Media editor
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA</span>
Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA

Younger audiences are treating BBC services such as iPlayer as an afterthought, according to a warning from Ofcom, as the media regulator revealed that people aged 16-34 spend less than an hour a day consuming BBC content.

This age group has reduced its use of the BBC by 22% in three years, according to Ofcom’s annual appraisal of the corporation’s performance.

People in the age bracket are drifting away from traditional broadcast channels such as BBC One and instinctively heading towards YouTube, Netflix and Spotify, rather than the corporation’s online services. As a result younger audiences tend to only use iPlayer “when they know what they want to watch, rather than as a destination to browse for new content”.

Ironically, Ofcom found that while younger audiences consume less BBC content, they seem to have a more favourable attitude to the corporation than their parents and grandparents.

The regulator suggested this was because they were more selective in what they chose to watch, rather than simply watching BBC One and being irritated by what they came across. “In this context, they are more likely to feel they are well-represented across the programmes and content they consume, and to be happy with how they are portrayed,” said the appraisal.

The regulator also noted that the BBC was struggling to reach people from working-class backgrounds and from outside London, especially in convincing people from poorer backgrounds to consume its news output.

The findings come as the BBC prepares for a national debate over how it will be funded when the licence fee model is up for replacement in 2027. Although audiences for the corporation’s main television and radio channels remain enormous, they are disproportionately consumed by older Britons.

As a result, the new director general, Tim Davie, faces a balancing act between pleasing the BBC’s core viewers – many of them over 75 and who now have to pay the £157.50 licence fee – and winning over the younger, more diverse audiences that could secure its future as a universal service.

The appraisal of the BBC’s performance was released on the same day as an Ofcom report on diversity in the British media, which found that the BBC had a far older workforce than its competitors.

Ofcom said that while the media had made progress on racial diversity, a major problem was the dominance of the media by London-based middle classes.

“TV and radio employees are around twice as likely to have grown up in a professional home compared to the UK population,” it said. “Audiences consistently say they expect to see programmes that authentically portray modern life across the UK, its nations and regions. To achieve that, broadcasters need to reflect the whole society they serve.”