BBC disputes media reports of a 20% slide in youth viewers


By John Glenday, Reporter

August 22, 2016 | 4 min read

The BBC is disputing reports that it has suffered a 20 per cent collapse in the number of viewers aged 16-34 following the relegation of BBC Three from broadcast to digital-only.

Research by Thinkbox on H1 TV viewing claimed that commercial rivals such as ITV2 and E4 were reaping the benefit of the BBC’s retrenchment. The study indicates that 18 per cent of younger viewers had deserted the public broadcaster since the switch.

While the overall TV viewing of 16-34 year olds dropped by an average of three minutes a day in the period compared to 2015, this decline was purely in BBC channels, the research claims.

By comparison, commercial TV channels that cater for 16-34s have benefitted since BBC Three’s closure. ITV2 and E4 have been striving to capitalise on the BBC’s perceived weakness, real or not, with ITV buying former BBC Three hits Family Guy and American Dad to augment it popular Love Island show. This has helped ITV2 post an increase of 27 per cent year-on-year in time spent viewing across Mar-Jun. E4 meanwhile continues to enjoy a ratings bounce on the back of Big Bang Theory.

BBC Three was axed back in February as a cost saving measure. It was thought at the time that its move online would boost the BBC's online viewing. But throughout March - May, iPlayer viewing remained flat as reported in the latest iPlayer performance pack. Thinkbox claim this underlines the continued importance of having a broadcast TV channel alongside an online VOD service.

Matt Hill, Thinkbox’s research and planning director, said: “TV is thriving on all screens, but the importance of TV channels on TV sets cannot be overlooked. They remain the first port of call for the majority of people of all ages. The apparent boost that commercial TV has received from BBC Three’s disappearance from the schedules underlines this fact – a strategy that is in stark contrast to the imminent arrival of Viceland on commercial TV.”

Viceland, the new broadcast TV channel from Vice, is launching next month. Thinkbox suggested this switch in youth TV audiences caused by BBC Three's digital-only move would be positive for the media owner.

Colin Watkins, the BBC’s head of communications, wasn’t prepared to take such statistics at face value however, taking to Twitter to point out several fallacies in the stories methodology.

Overall, the BBC’s broadcast TV viewing dropped by eight per cent, according to Mar-May figures from the BBC. This has helped commercial TV’s share of total TV viewing during the first six months of 2016 increase to 67.4 per cent, up from 66 per cent during the same period in 2015.

Additional reporting by Jessica Goodfellow


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