The BBC Annual Report and Accounts reveals, among other things, that BBC viewing among young adults has fallen by over a third in five years, which is more than for other major British broadcasters. The BBC recognises that it needs to reinvent itself for the next generation of viewers.

The average number of hours a week spent by those aged over 16 watching BBC television has fallen from 9 hours 34 minutes in 2013-14 to 8 hours 16 minutes in 2017-18. That is a reduction of 13.6%.

More significantly, the average time spent watching BBC television per week by those aged 16-34 has fallen from 4 hours 38 minutes to 2 hours 39 minutes over the same period. That is a decline of 35.6% over 5 years.

Both cases are based on BARB data and households with a television. Those aged 16-34 are less likely to be in a household with television.

The fall in BBC viewing among those aged 16-34 corresponds to a general decline in viewing for other broadcast television channels, although that only fell by 21.8% over the same period. However, viewing of all ITV television remained relatively flat at an average of just over 3 hours a week.

Among this age group, other uses of the television set, including subscription video services, gaming and watching discs, increased from just over 3 hours to 7 and a half hours a week, an increase of over 4 hours 20 minutes or 140%.

Across all broadcast channels, viewing in this age group fell by just under 4 hours 45 minutes a week, or 25%.

Television viewing among views aged 16-34, 2013-2018. Source: BARB / BBC / informitv analysis

So it is not so much that young adults are viewing less television, but they are watching a lot less broadcast television, no doubt doubt driven by an increase in online video.

That is no great surprise but it is a real problem for the BBC, which appears to be losing viewing time from this group faster than other broadcasters.

Some of this viewing could be moving online to the BBC iPlayer, which is not accounted for in these BARB figures, but still only accounts for a modest proportion of BBC viewing.

The BBC says that it now has around 15 million people actively signed in to the BBC iPlayer each month and that iPlayer requests were up by 11% in 2017.

The reach of BBC television among those aged 16-34, defined as viewing for 15 consecutive minutes in a week, fell from 65% in 2016-17 to 60% in 2017-18, while other uses of the television set increased from 60% to 65%.

The real challenge could come if the weekly reach of BBC television among young adults falls below 50%, which is about the reach of Channel Four.

As the BBC report notes, public service broadcasting will need to work hard to maintain relevance to younger generations.

Children under 6 spend more time with the BBC than any other media provider, around 7 hours a week, thanks to the provision of children’s programming without advertising.

However, those aged 6-15 spend similar amounts of time with the BBC and YouTube, watching each for around 5 hours 30 minutes a week.

“Global media giants
are being bought and sold in a race for scale. Consumers have more choice and more competition for their time and attention than ever before,” wrote Tony Hall, the director general of the BBC. “Audience habits are changing more rapidly than ever.”

“Where younger audiences lead the way, older audiences will likely follow. That is why we have put this challenge right at the heart of our strategy to reinvent the BBC for a new generation.”