In its first annual report on the BBC, the communications regulator Ofcom assesses the performance of the corporation in the context of significant changes in the media landscape. While the BBC is widely used and respected, younger people are finding it less attractive. Ofcom urges the BBC and other broadcasters in the United Kingdom to collaborate with each other and third parties to compete.

In 2017, average viewing of BBC television on a television set was around an hour a day per person, with 56 minutes viewed live, 8 minutes through a digital video recorder and 3 minutes on iPlayer. An average of 86 minutes a day per person was spent listening to BBC radio, while 8 minutes was spent on BBC web sites.

However, those aged 16-34 spent an average of 20 minutes a day watching BBC television live, plus 6 minutes through a recorder and 3 minutes on iPlayer. So while this age group has historically viewed less television than older adults, they are not watching a whole lot more on iPlayer.

BBC television viewing, age, 2010 v 2017. Average minutes per person per day. Source: Ofcom, BARB.

16-24 year-olds spent the least time watching BBC television, at just under 20 minutes a day, compared to 38 minutes a day in 2010. In terms of reach, 53% watch for at least 15 consecutive minutes a week.

60% of viewing of the main BBC One and Two channels is now by those aged over 54.

Those aged over 65 predictably watch the most, for over two and a quarter hours a day at 137 minutes, down only slightly from 144 minutes at the start of the decade. Nearly 95% watch at least once a week, down only fractionally on 2010.

BBC television viewing reach, age 2010 v 2017. 15 minute consecutive viewing. Source: Ofcom, BARB.

BBC Three, now only available online, is aimed at 16-34 year-olds, but only 8% of young people watch BBC Three programming each week. Ofcom research found that some viewers of BBC Three said they watched BBC Three less, or not at all, following its move online, and some expressed regret at this move.

BBC Four has increased its average viewing, but is only watched for an average of less than 2 minutes a day per person, rising to 4 minutes for those over 65 years old.

The picture is rather alarming for the CBBC channel, with a remit to serve 6-12 year olds. Among those aged 4-15, average viewing was less than 4 minutes a day, with a weekly reach of 14%, down from nearly 25% in 2010.

Overall, Ofcom estimates that people spend around 2 hours 45 minutes a day with the BBC, although this falls to under 1 hour 20 minutes for those aged 16-34.

The report notes that audiences are continuing to shift away from
 live, scheduled programmes to consuming on-demand and online content, increasingly on portable devices. More than half of the viewing of 16-34 year-olds across all screens is of non-broadcast content, including almost an hour per day of YouTube.

In part, this reflects a wider structural shift in their viewing habits. Yet when they do watch broadcast channels on a television set, young people spend almost as much time watching ITV as BBC One.

One of the key conclusions is that, as the BBC recognises, it is not currently doing enough, quickly enough, to reach young people, who are critical to its future success. It needs to take significant steps to address this issue, to ensure it delivers content that appeals in ways that suit and reflect young people’s viewing and listening habits.

Ofcom says the BBC needs to take significant steps to ensure it engages effectively with young people. “We will discuss with the BBC how it plans to address this issue and monitor the impact of the changes it makes,” it says. “If we do not see sufficient progress here we will consider further measures.”

Ofcom observes that the BBC and other traditional broadcasters need to adapt to ensure that their content continues to appeal and that it is readily available where and when audiences want to consume it. Increasingly, public service broadcasters will need to partner with a range of players, finding common ground to navigate the changing landscape to deliver the best results for audiences in the United Kingdom.

The regulator says that public service broadcasters are best placed to identify further opportunities for collaboration. “We believe there is scope for PSBs to explore new ways 
of working with each other and with other market players, to create content that appeals to UK audiences (including more investment in original UK content), and to find innovative ways of reaching different audiences and ensuring that their content is carried prominently.”