How MTV, Radio 1 and Channel 4 are adapting to reach and retain millennials

Millenials are one of the most closely watched generations. Tech savvy and time starved the cohort of today’s 18-34 year olds are the driving force of disruption across media, fashion, technology and the economy, and the reason why broadcasters such as MTV, Radio 1 and Channel 4 are having to adapt their content strategies to engage them.

For MTV this meant that while linear TV is still working for them (ratings were up six per cent internationally this year) the shift to mobile and other devices means that its audience is accessing TV content on their own terms.

“The key thing for us is that we absolutely can’t grow up or grow old with our audience so it’s critical that a brand like MTV knows our audience better than anyone else,” said Kerry Taylor SVP, Youth and Music at Viacom International and chief marketing officer at Viacom UK, MTV Networks earlier today at the Westminster Media Forum seminar.

“We knew that it was time to shed our skin and reinvent again. We spoke to our creative teams around the world… and after a few days they came back to deliver a concept.

“We are a 30 year old brand and we have to do what we think is right for us. We can’t constantly chase our audience’s acceptance and understanding of what they need.”

The resulting idea is three fold: this summer MTV ditched its 30-year old ‘I want my MTV’ strapline for the more social media orientated ‘I am my MTV’ and created #MTVbump which sees user generated videos posted with the hashtag featured on linear TV two hours after being published.

“It allows audiences to create content and be a part of the story, but we also knew that we didn’t want to be a brand that was just about content creators we wanted to have different touch points for people to come,” said Taylor explaining the third facet to MTV’s new strategy, which is a digital sticker book named Canvas that allows users to create their own idents.

Launched last month, the response to Canvas has been “insane” and Taylor said in the first few days the broadcaster saw 3500 uses of the platform. MTV is also playing with its promos and looking to “challenge the idea” that creative in its idents needs to be 30-seconds long.

Meanwhile over at BBC Radio 1 the station is adapting to the insatiable appetite for video and short-form digital content that millennials are hungrily consuming. Joe Harland, head of visualisation, BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra said that the issue is not about reach – the station reaches 10 million people per week – but being relevant to its audience.

“In terms of evolving over time what we want to ensure is that BBC Radio 1 remains the most valued station and we have a role to integrate digital into that,” he said. “Video is not the only answer to the audience challenge. Radio still provides a communal listening experience like no other and there are many great ideas that work brilliantly on radio that you wouldn’t want to point a camera at. Sometimes a photo will do the job, sometimes a listicle, sometimes a Vine and being able to identify the best way to get it to the audience is what we’ve always done in broadcasting.

“All this relates to the core product [which] in our case is radio and radio is pleasing versatile… but we all know that video is significantly more shareable than audio and that’s why in radio we have a policy of ‘Listen, Watch, Share and everything comes back to the core product of listen.”

Harland cited Radio 1’s popular Live Lounge music sessions as an example and said that while it pulls in millions of views on YouTube, without the live radio aspect it wouldn’t work in the same way.

Over at Channel 4 the broadcaster is focussing on the type and amount of content that it is making available to viewers online. The TV channel replaced its catch-up service 4oD with All 4 earlier this year to house all of Channel 4’s linear channels, digital content and services in one place, for the first time.

“We are establishing a VOD destination to which we can now win attention as well as inheriting it,” explained Richard Davidson-Houston, head of All 4 and digital content. “If 4oD is a convenience store, All 4 will be a super store.

“All4 is founded on the simple principle of that if you can bring someone in and alert them to the availability of something the idea of what you are will change, they will return more often and All 4 will grow under its own steam.”

From boxsets to original programming all content on the platform is free and funded entirely by advertising and leverages Channel 4's database of over 11 million viewers (which now includes 1 in 2 of all 16-34 year olds in the UK), to offer an increasingly bespoke set of content and related experiences for viewers.

Next year Channel 4 will turn its focus for millenials’ enjoyment of international programming and launch a new service – Walter Presents – in January 2016.

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