Re-Booting TV For Youth

How does TV adapt to fit the expectations and needs of modern youth? Crowd DNA insight and innovation exec, Cathy Pearson, went in search of answers at Channel 4's Youth Audience event...

It’s no secret that 16-34s have always watched less TV than their elders. More than ever, they’re busy adapting to life’s transitions and adopting viewing habits to suit their lifestyles. This is why Leonie Hodge, head of audience research and insight at Channel 4, and speaking at the channel’s Youth Audiences event, believes reflecting young people’s influences, aspirations and experiences is a big part of getting programming right. Young people are aware of social issues, they want to discover new things and they’re willing to challenge their own preconceptions, so TV’s ability to influence is huge — but only if broadcasters get it right.

Driving the best TV experience for young people is increasingly about tapping into social and cultural trends, and employing these across new content as well as the genres they love. This means socially purposeful and authentic content with a commercial reach. Topical themes encourage wider conversation and have social cache among young people, but can also deepen their relationship with a particular show or channel in a crowded television landscape. The shows with heritage are those that allow them to resonate with a character, narrative or issue, and gain commitment from young audiences as they continue to use them as social markers.

Young people are looking to programmes first before heading to the channel with that content and if the audience are moving quickly, channel brands need to follow. Technology has been the biggest driver of growth in TV viewing among 16-24s with an increasing number of platforms and destinations for them to seek out TV content. Their digital engagement increases the TV viewing time of young people by an extra half an hour each day on both VOD and DVD, and the success of early digital initiatives that make content widely available speak largely about audience loyalty to seek out content above and beyond TV, according to Victoria Lucas, Channel 4’s series content producer on Hollyoaks.

TV’s once simpler role to entertain a passive audience has been thrown out. 16-34s are active in following their favourite shows and ditching those that don’t cut it. Channels must do more to reach them and reposition their programmes to become the content of choice. The biggest challenges are around producing and distributing content that connects — TV must not just entertain but capture the stories and issues that matter, and tell them from a young perspective. Harnessing this will require broadcasters and creative heads to remain much closer to their young audiences.