The BBC is procuring a contract worth £25 million a year to promote its programmes using paid media channels. That is a significant increase on its previous commitment of around £15 million a year. It reflects the difficulty in reaching younger audiences through its own broadcast channels.

In its procurement announcement, the BBC says it is responsible for ensuring that all audiences are aware of the programmes and services that their licence fee has funded and how they can access them to achieve maximum value from their licence fee.

“New digital behaviours, particularly for younger audiences, means that it is becoming increasingly challenging to reach young audiences solely through promotion on our owned media channels,” the BBC announced. “Thus, it is essential, in order to fulfil our responsibilities, that we use paid for media channels to complement our owned media.”

The BBC is seeking a media agency to manage the planning, buying and return on investment evaluation of external media activity, as well as delivering strategic insights and analysis of the wider emerging media market.

“Investing in paid media ensures we are able to engage critical audiences with the right reach and frequency to create awareness of the programmes and services they have paid for through their licence fee,” the BBC said.

Paid media refers to adverts, such as billboards and press, as well as online campaigns. The contract is worth £25 million a year for up to four years, including the paid media budget and agency fees.

The investment is a fraction of the total annual BBC budget of £4.9 billion. In comparison, it spent £214 million on online in 2018-2019, £504 million on radio and £1.7 billion on television.

The paid advertising is in addition to promotions for programmes and services on its own television channels, which amounted to almost 760 hours in 2018-2019, including over 80 hours promoting BBC One programmes on that channel, up by 9 hours on the previous year.

In the first week of August, when television viewing is generally low in the United Kingdom, the BBC had only two programmes in the top 15 as reported by the audience research organisation BARB.

Ranking 14, Poldark had a 7-day audience of 5.44 million, including 134,000 viewing on phones, tablets and computers. At 15, an episode of EastEnders was watched by 5.28 million, including 212,000 on phones, tablets and computers. ITV had all the higher rating shows, but even its top programme, the long-running Coronation Street, reached only 6.63 million viewers.

Viewing of BBC One among those aged 25-34 has fallen by a third in five years, to an average of under 17 minutes a day, less than that for ITV. Viewing of BBC Two has fallen by 39% to an average of just 4 minutes a day, or about one half-hour programme a week.

UK television and BBC One viewing for younger adults 2010-2018. Source: Ofcom, BARB, informitv analysis.

Perhaps what the BBC needs is a channel aiming specifically at, say, 16-34 year-olds. It could be called, maybe, BBC Three.

The BBC had such a channel but in March 2014 decided replace it with an online only service, taking it off air in February 2016. The online service now reaches around 8% of its target audience a week, averaged over four weeks. BBC One meanwhile aims to be the channel that reaches the most 16-34 year-olds, with a weekly reach of 41.8% of those aged 16-24 and 55.4% of those aged 25-34.

Yet it seems that a channel that apparently reaches half its target market is not sufficient to promote programmes to an age group that is watching less television, and watching less BBC programming. It could simply be that given more choice, people aged 16-34 do not particularly want to watch Poldark.