THE BLOG

Do Young People Care About Public Service Broadcasting?

04/12/2015 20:42 GMT | Updated 02/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Ask a young person in Britain today to share their opinions on public service broadcasting and don't be surprised if they start to talk about Snapchat, Periscope, Vine or YouTube.

To me, this is an easily understandable misunderstanding. Generation Z are growing up in a time when these ever present social media platforms are free, unfiltered and enable anyone with a smartphone to become a broadcaster. The voices and opinions that they interact with on these services are devoid of perceived journalistic bias or an agenda and tell it like it is with a raw, unedited delivery that most young people have come to accept as the norm.

Where does this leave public service broadcasters like the BBC? The independent position and distinct voice of the Corporation seems to be lost upon large swathes of this generation, who look upon the BBC as just another voice of authority in an increasingly crowded media landscape.

Although you'd imagine a shift in perception like this took a considerable amount of time, it seems that a lot of the people I come into contact with could pinpoint the events of Sunday August 7th 2011 as a significant turning point.

Like many others, I remember sitting at home watching in horror as Brixton went up in flames on my Twitter feed while the TV on the other side of the room completely ignored the civil unrest exploding on streets across the country.

I'm sure that those working the Sunday night shift at the BBC News channel thought that they were doing the right thing in not exacerbating a situation that was already putting a huge strain on Police forces up and down the country. In hindsight it is clear that by not reporting what had been spread across the internet through the power of the retweet, the BBC left a distinct impression on its younger viewers. To many, they became just another symbol of the establishment about which you should be sceptical. Factoring in the onslaught of negative headlines the BBC has had written about it in the intervening years and you'll agree that there might well be significant work to do to re-establish the unique importance and relevance of the BBC in the eyes of its more junior audiences.

Having grown up with four channels and no internet until my early teens, the BBC had a very central and valued role in both my entertainment consumption and personal development. Today we live in times of extreme fragmentation.

The idea that young people are going to get to a certain age and automatically return to TV and linear scheduling is deeply misguided. The spread of young audiences across multiple content sources and delivery methods is set to increase as they get older. Social media is the EPG of the next generation and disengaging from the proprietary mind-set and spending more of the licence fee on shows that find the audience, wherever they may be, is the key to the BBC's continued evolution.

I welcome BBC3's move online and the bravery it has exhibited in detaching this part of the service from the familiar constraints of the linear schedule. Successfully implanting its programming brands and new short form videos into the already cluttered feeds of young people across the United Kingdom is going to pose a challenge. But by maintaining its strong editorial voice and continuing to make investments in creative experiments that its status as a public service broadcaster allows, they have more than a fighting chance of reaching those elusive young audiences and reminding them of the distinct value of the BBC before it's too late.