Will The BBC And TV Licence Survive Gen Z?

Everybody who has worked for any media or advertising company will know there is no law that says the organisation must last forever. But the BBC? It would be tempting to think that there is a natural exemption for something as intrinsic to British life as the BBC.

Not so, according to a report out this week from Ofcom. It has warned the national broadcaster is at risk of being unsustainable if it continues to fail in reaching a young audience which the regulator's researchers is referring to as a "lost generation."

The figures don't look good.

For the first time ever, Ofcom is reporting less than half of 16- to-24-year-olds watched a BBC television channel in an average week. In contrast, Netflix has a penetration of nearly two in three for the same age group, compared to 26% for the BBC's iPlayer. Perhaps just as worrying, that's a 2% lowering of penetration for iPlayer in just a year. 

Ofcom made the point that the one tv channel through which the BBC targeted youth audiences, BBC 3, has been moved to online only and so has seen its audience halve. In contract, ITV 2, which targets a similar young group has thrived through hit shows such as "Love Island."

The BBC has responded to the report, and the takeaway headlines from Ofcom with frustration, according to some reports. The counter argument is that the figures do not take into account the hard work it is putting in to reach young audiences. In particular, executives refer to a recent move to extend the duration that a programme is available on iPlayer from one month to an entire year. 

However, I must say that anyone who listens to "The Media Show" on BBC Radio 4 will be familiar with the presenters pushing BBC execs on this "lost" or "unreached" generation.

It is a common problem for which there seems to be no concrete answer. Will extending shows from one month to twelve on iPlayer have a lasting impact when Netflix has treble the reach among this target young audience?

it would be tempting to think that maybe public service broadcasting just isn't cool enough for Gen Z and millennials -- but then again, we have the aforementioned ITV2, and Channel 4 has a strong appeal with a younger audience.

The question for the BBC, then, is answering whether it is the media equivalent of M&S, the stalwart of the high street where kids are taken to be clothed and generally don't return until they are middle-aged adults.

As far as the BBC goes, we are all raised on it, I certainly know our kids have loved CBeebies, before we go our own way, only to come back to it later on in life when it's a familiar brand that we trust and that we know provides quality at reasonable cost. 

I suspect in this young Gen Z audience we have people making their own entertainment choices on tablets and computers. Guess what? When they're not watching tv with parents, they're watching their own series, checking out favourite YouTube stars. 

That might be a crumb of comfort to the BBC, but it still does not put off a fundamental question. When Gen Z cuts the apron strings, will it bother to buy a television licence? Or will it just shift to watching shows on Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and -- if they are still around -- Disney and Apple?

Is the model of paying a large chunk of money every year to buy a licence to watch shows that aren't your favourites going to survive? Or will youngsters use apps to cut the cord and watch hit shows streamed digitally?

Nobody knows the answer to this, but one thing is clear. The tv licence is guaranteed until 2025. After that it is anyone's guess, with even the Culture Secretary saying she is open to alternative suggestions. 

My hunch? Linear tv is definitely under threat, but the BBC and the tv licence will continue.

Mind you, that could just be nostalgia talking. 

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