What Happens When Gen Z Streams Rather Than Watching TV?

This column recently asked the question of whether the BBC and the licence fee would survive Gen Z. As it turns out, this columnist is not the only person asking the question -- The House of Lords is too.

This week has been a time for committees to get reports out in time for the ending of Parliament, ahead of December's election. The House of Lords report on public service broadcasting could not have been any clearer in its warning ---"You'll miss them when they're gone" was the ominous title.

Like the Ofcom report that came out last month, the Lords are particularly worried about public service broadcasters -- the main terrestrial broadcasters -- reaching young people.

Ofcom focussed on the BBC and went as far as publishing figures that show Netflix has a penetration among GenZ of two in three, compared to around just one in four for BBC iPlayer.

Just as worrisome, the report suggested that for the first time ever, fewer than a half of 16- to-24-year-olds are watching a BBC channel in an average week. 

The Lords Communication and Digital Committee has a wider concern. It broadens the age group to include Gen Z and millennials and warns that the age group is tuning in. Instead they are watching streaming services. This means anyone under 35 years of age is not developing the habit of usually relying on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 or Channel 5 for entertainment.

This is putting all public service broadcasting at risk because if people don't naturally go to the main channels their parents grew up watching as a matter of course, those channels could wither on the vine. 

The committee also blasted the channels -- particularly the BBC -- for not making programmes that appeal to BAME audience as much as streamers' output. They added that streaming companies are also better at forming inclusive casts, but in front of the camera and in production teams.

So what to do? The Lords makes a very strong point that the BBC should never have accepted responsibility for paying for licence fees for over 75s. This is such a slip that the Lords suggest a new body is formed to take responsibility for setting the licence fee. 

Sports fans without Sky might well approve of the additional suggestion that more sport is made available for free on terrestrial television. The suggestion is that The Ashes and The Open Golf Championship should be added to events, such as Wimbledon and FA Cup Final, that must be shown on free channels. 

The Lords is also questioning whether tax relief should be available to huge companies. In other words, consideration must be given to whether it should be applied to small production companies and not the likes of Netflix making The Crown in London.

The Lords did, however, stop short of recommending that the streaming giants be taxed with a new levy but did suggest government needs to find new ways to support the terrestrial channels. 

The Government put in place after December's election is going to have to address these issues which is not just being raised by the House of Lords but also the industry regulator, Ofcom. These are not 'what if' questions in strategy work shops. The figures show that this is what is playing out in the real world and the Government has some serious questions to answer. 

1 comment about "What Happens When Gen Z Streams Rather Than Watching TV?".
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  1. John Grono from GAP Research, November 8, 2019 at 6:06 p.m.

    Interesting post Sean.

    But I could ask the opposite as well.   What happens when Gen Z establish their career, get married and start a family?   With the pressures of everyday living will they 'self-curate' their streaming or just turn the telly on?

    I ask this, because when I was part of the team at Nielsen AU when we started doing the TV ratings in the early 90s, there was much angst and gnashing of teeth about how 16-24s weren't watching TV and tht TV's future was bleak, what with susbcription TV and digital TV etc.

    Well, you know what?   Every one of those 16-24s are now in the 40-54 cohort which is one the mainstay TV buying demographics.

    Yes the 16-24s were watching less back then and are watching even less than now.   But just like that '90s cohort the current cohort will watch more TV when they are 40-54 than they do now.   On the flip side, the 40-54 viewing levels in future years will be lower than current 40-54 viewing levels ... as will the 16-24 cohorts.

    Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

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