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Connecting with younger audiences: What we've learnt through the pandemic

03 November 2020
Connecting with younger audiences: What we've learnt through the pandemic

Connecting with younger audiences has been a perennial problem for public service media.

The new generation has grown up in the digital era and some have never even consumed linear TV. Television’s weekly reach for young people is 20% lower than that of the general population in Europe and has declined by more than 11% in the last 5 years.

However, the pandemic has shown that there is still a huge appetite out there for relevant programming that tells stories and provides information in a way that is familiar and comprehensible to younger audiences.

Public service media (PSM) reached 57% of kids in Europe every week with their TV services last March. Kids were watching an average of 19 minutes more television every day as the lockdown set in.

PSM’s online services also became increasingly important with the daily reach of children’s websites’ up by 2.3 times in April-May, compared to the start of the year. And one in five children used PSM's education offer in the first full week of lockdown alone as broadcasters took on the mantle of schools.

These figures are hugely encouraging although I don’t think we can underestimate the challenges we will continue to face.

The market is more crowded and more fragmented than it ever has been– with global platforms like Disney+, YouTube Kids and Netflix Kids competing fiercely for children’s eyeballs. With social platforms, gaming and multiple new entertainment choices also vying for children’s attention, it's certainly a challenge for our Members to engage with the next generation.

But we can take hope from audience behaviour over recent months and the lessons we have learnt. Here are my top five takeaways:

  • PSM is still the place audiences of all ages turn to for trusted news and information at times of crisis. The daily viewing share for evening news bulletins across Europe went up by 44% among the elusive youth market when the pandemic peaked in March. Our Members found new and innovative ways to ensure younger audiences were kept informed, while returning to some ‘old’ favourites such as radio news broadcasts to make sure no child was left behind.   
  • The multi-platform approach is obviously key to reaching young audiences. So, while linear TV was given a new lease of life by the lockdown, PSM also made sure it was to be found wherever kids were – with new online short-form drama, Instagram content starring key talent and a new level of interactivity that helped kids feel engaged and listened to.
  • PSM has been accused in the past of being slow to respond to change or not adaptive enough. Yet, it is widely accepted that, despite all the challenges during the crisis, PSM showed incredible creativity and flexibility in producing new content that could help kids make sense of a new world that even adults were struggling to understand. The agility shown in producing, for example, educational output – often months before educational providers themselves – should stand us in good stead for the future.
  • We’ve seen families sitting down to watch television together – often for the first time. In recent years, families have tended to view their own choice of programmes on different devices in different rooms. The pandemic brought people together in new ways and family content has been particularly successful for many Members and likely to be more present in their strategies in the future.
  • More than anything, recent months have only served to emphasise the importance of distinctive, home-grown content, which is what makes PSM so unique. We must continue to invest in local stories and local productions that reflect the reality of life for young people and help them make sense of the world around them – no matter how confusing.

As many of us across Europe face a second lockdown, we need to build on the lessons we’ve all learnt over the last few months and make sure our children are well-catered for with media that educates, informs and entertains in equal measures.

Here at the EBU, our Young Audiences Initiative will continue to work to help our Members get a better understanding of and connection with this important demographic. Look out for our new ‘Youth – What Works’ report which will be published later this month and our upcoming EBU Kids thematic webinars.

We are all at least partially shaped by the media we consume as children – let’s try and ensure that it’s a positive, inspirational and life-affirming experience for all our young people.

Relevant links and documents

Written by

Noel Curran

Director General