The future of youth television isn't digital-first or TV-first – it's audience-first
Move aside Spring – disruption is most definitely in the air for youth TV. We recently saw youth publishing expert Vice announce that its TV channel Viceland will start airing on Sky in September. Meanwhile, Red Bull has appointed two senior British producers to start its commissioning programme in the UK. And we are just over one month on from BBC3 stopping TV transmission and reinventing itself online.
At first glance, and with TV viewing figures in rude health, the BBC3 move to online-only seemed to some a flawed decision that could cost the channel loyal viewers. But while the change stirred controversy, ultimately BBC3 now offers young people greater freedom to view its content on their mobile or tablet, or as before in the living room (via BBC iPlayer or BBC One/BBC Two).
The news that Vice and Red Bull are entering the linear TV world may seem to fly in the face of the BBC move. Their somewhat brazen confidence at entering a new space suggests that these youth brands must know something the BBC doesn’t.
However, the truth is that all three have the same overarching strategy in place; they are listening to their audience and delivering shows people want to watch how and when they want to see them.
Television has expanded into new times and new spaces, and broadcasters have to meet the shift head on by evolving at the core to become audience-first.
All three youth broadcasters have a distinct proposition and create quality programming. For example, Vice’s news outfit is offering young people a way to see the news presented in a way that works for them, without compromising on hard-hitting investigative journalism. Red Bull currently has a TV channel, Servus TV in German-speaking Europe, and is carving out a niche for entertainment content that sits alongside extreme sports, exploration and factual series.
Both Vice and Red Bull know that whilst younger audiences do watch ‘on demand’ they still like to watch scheduled TV too. Irrespective of whether they are labelled as digital natives, millennials or Generation Z, the fact is that younger viewers are seeing over two hours of TV daily. The number of screens might be increasing, but so is the amount of time spent in front of each one – it follows that the move to TV can only extend these brands’ presence and reach.
All this potential disruption and the decline of young people’s TV viewers also points to a renewed focus on quality; perhaps dwindling viewing figures would not be so steep if the quality of programmes kept pace with its evolving audience.
Many of the shows aimed at younger people such as Hollyoaks and The X-Factor were in fact conceived about 15 years ago. New formats that respect young people’s shifting attitudes and interests wouldn’t go amiss, and this is something that both Red Bull and Vice are honouring, investing in the cream of entertainment and programming talent both behind and in front of the cameras. For instance, Vice is bringing in acclaimed film director Spike Jonze for its next phase of scripted programming.
So while Vice and Red Bull are the first youth brands to spot a gap for quality programming in the TV broadcasting arena, they won’t be the last. And simultaneously, we can expect to see more youth programming available on digital channels. Those that succeed in either (or both) space/s will have to attune carefully to their audiences, investing in top talent and content delivered where and how they choose to watch it and available whenever they decide they want it. Choice and flexibility are key.
TV isn’t going anywhere, it is only growing in scope and breadth. Let’s hope we start to see new, improved programming for the next generation.
Garret Keogh is managing director and co-founder of Telegraph Hill