BBC under threat in wake of streaming battle, says Ofcom

A new report claims the broadcaster risks a “lost generation of viewers” as young people increasingly turn to Netflix and YouTube

people arriving at BBC broadcasting house. Central London, UK. (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)

The BBC faces a serious “threat to its future” as younger viewers increasingly turn to streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube, according to Ofcom.

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In their annual report on the corporation, the regulator expressed serious concerns about how younger viewers are turning to other platforms, saying “support for the licence fee in future could be eroded” if younger audiences continue to turn away from the platform.

Highlighting how younger people are twice as likely to watch BBC programmes on Netflix than on the BBC’s own iPlayer service, the report suggested such an audience may not be aware shows such as Doctor Who and Peaky Blinders were created using licence fee money.

Finding that children in their early teens are more likely to recognise the YouTube and Netflix brands than the BBC, Ofcom claimed the broadcaster risks a “lost generation of viewers” unless it can reverse this decline.

“With increased choice and strong competition in the market, there is a clear risk that as children and young people age, they do not come to engage with the BBC as previous generations once did,” Ofcom said.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • For the first time ever, less than half (49%) of people aged 16-24 watched the BBC’s TV channels in any given week.
  • Netflix reaches almost two-thirds of 15-24-year-olds each week in the UK and YouTube 42%. BBC iPlayer reaches just 26% of this age group, representing a drop of 28% from 2017.
  • People aged 16-34 spent 72 minutes with the BBC in 2018, compared with 76 minutes in 2018, showing a 5% decline.
  • BBC3 has seen its audience half since moving online in 2016.
  • Young people do not have a “close association” with the BBC News website and consider it to be just “one of many” online news services.

In response to the findings, the BBC said it was transforming “iPlayer from a catch-up service to a destination in its own right” and highlighted the success of programmes such as Killing Eve, Bodyguard and RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.

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They said: “Our most up-to-date data shows that our plan is delivering, with iPlayer’s reach to young audiences up by around 20 per cent in the last year, BBC Sounds reaching more than 2.6m adults weekly and the number using BBC News Online weekly up 26 per cent year-on-year.”