Around half of all viewers to the two main BBC television channels are over 60 years of age, yet this age group makes up less than a quarter of the population of the United Kingdom. A quarter of those aged 25-34 barely watch BBC television. A report from the BBC Trust says the BBC should seek to improve its appeal to younger viewers. Television audiences have traditionally skewed to an older demographic, with younger adults generally watching less, but will this generation ever watch as much as their parents?
In 2013, 94% of the population of the United Kingdom watched some television in a week, for over 27 hours a week on an average. 89% of that viewing was of programmes as they were broadcast, falling to 84% in homes with a personal video recorder.
The BBC iPlayer is now used by 14% of all adults and around a quarter of 16-24 year-olds each week in the United Kingdom. Watching programmes on iPlayer accounts for 3% of all viewing of BBC Television, a relatively small but growing proportion.
81% of individuals in the United Kingdom watch BBC television during a week, down from 85% in 2004. 75% watch at least 15 minutes of BBC One, down from over 80% in 2004.
The reach of other public service broadcasters has also fallen over a decade, as digital services offer a greater choice of channels.
The share of the main public service channels, BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4 and Five, has fallen from 76% of all television viewing in 2003 to 53% in 2013. Even taking into account other channels in the portfolio of the public service broadcasters, their share has declined from 80% to under 70% over a decade.
Among those aged 16-24, the weekly reach of BBC television has fallen from just under 70% in 2010 to 67%. For those aged 25-34 the reach has fallen from over 80% to 76%. In other words, almost a quarter of adults aged 25-34 barely watch BBC channels on television, viewing less than 15 minutes a week on any BBC channel.
As a result, the average age of the BBC television audience is increasing. The median age of viewer to BBC One has risen from 56 in 2010 to 59 in 2013, while the median age for BBC Two has risen from 58 to 60 and that for BBC Four has risen from 58 to 61. The median age for BBC Three has fallen from 34 to 33, meaning that half its audience is aged over 33.
The official remit for BBC Three is to target those aged 16-34, which is around a quarter of the population. The BBC is planning to take BBC Three off air and convert it into an online service, subject to approval from the BBC Trust.
While there have been changes in the age profile of the population over this time, the median age for the United Kingdom has remained static at 40. That is to say that half the country is aged 40 or under. This suggests that changes in viewing profile reflect changes in viewing preference rather than population.
Only around 23% of the population of the United Kingdom is aged over 60, while over 26% is aged between 16-34. This age group has historically viewed less television but has previously grown up to watch more. Whether this cohort will ever watch as much television as their parents remains to be seen.
The Trust has told BBC management that it should improve its appeal to younger viewers and those from ethnic minorities, and increase the distinctiveness of its offer. It also suggests that different areas of the BBC should work more collaboratively to meet audience needs.
The Service Review of BBC Television: BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three and BBC Four is published by the BBC Trust and available on the BBC web site.