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UKTV, the BBC-owned media group of channels that include Dave, Gold, Yesterday, W, Alibi, Drama and online streaming service UKTV Play, is on a mission to grow a younger audience.

Through audience building partnerships with the likes of TikTok and Twitch, the group hopes to engage with a growing number of 16-34 year-olds to promote new productions that will drive a burgeoning audience of younger viewers on its channels.

Speaking to The Drum, head of marketing Cherie Cunningham talks about how marketing strategy married with broadcast commissioning is working together in order to meet that goal.

Cunningham, who is specifically responsible for two of the group’s most popular channels when it comes to a younger audience - W and Dave – explains that budgets are now being planned for social media activity and podcasts alongside traditional media such as out of home and radio advertising, through media agency Hearts & Science.

“These are the places that younger people tend to be,” states Cunningham. “Dave as a brand has a distinct tone of voice, so we are making sure that we are using that distinct tone of voice to try and make sure that we are standing out against our competitor-set.”

With an insight into the differing audiences that each of the channel brands targets, UKTV aims to offer content around subjects that these viewers deeply care about, with Dave pinpointed as the channel that uses comedy to reflect what is important in the lives of its younger audiences, Cunningham claims, driving shares through social media and conversational moments within private Whatsapp groups.

“It’s that little injection of a friendly message which can make you smile, or sharing a link from LadBible to make you laugh, we’re making sure that what we are talking about, with Dave especially, are things that are important to our audience and that’s comedy. We then take that one step further and we start talking about mental health.”

In 2018, Dave partnered with the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), a movement against male suicide, which conducted research that found 48% of respondents would appreciate friends making them laugh when going through a hard time.

The resulting campaign, which ran for a year, produced social media, radio and billboard posters, including within pubs and cafes, to encourage men to look out more for their friends.

A four-minute film entitled ‘The Mate You’d Want’ ran on Dave, voiced by comedian James Acaster to drive home that core message too. Cunningham describes that as one of her proudest career moments to date:

“We actually saw a spike in the ad break,” she claims of the film’s debut, with the audience-driven in the majority (60%) of 20-somethings who were made aware of the film through a campaign build-up.  “So it just goes to show that when you are an authentic brand and you are doing something that you really care about, in an authentic way that is true to your brand that people want to come in and interact with them.”

That partnership has pertained with the production of a podcast, Conversations Against Living Miserably, and a comedy series that aims to tackle the issues of mental health with humour.

“Talking about things that are actually important to the audience is at the centre of everything that we do and to complement that, the UKTV audience has channel teams. Where I’ve worked at other broadcasters before I’ve worked in a marketing team, but we work in channel teams which means I work directly for a channel director so we make commissioning and marketing decisions together and it creates a really collaborative channel-team culture where you have the consumer at the heart of every single decision that we make and for us on Dave especially that is younger audiences.”

Cunningham described the UKTV group as “a really complex machine” when it comes to the spread of focal points delivered by individual channels. She reveals that Dave in peak tends to hold an audience with 28% from the 16-34-year-old category, with W coming in second in terms of popularity with that audience.

“They are two focal brands within the network targeting younger audiences and the two that will resonate best with the content that sits on those channels. Other channels operate entirely differently – some sit behind the pay-TV wall [such as Gold] and some are there to surface older comedy and then have a target audience that reflects that. As a network, we are really good at offering different audiences, different things.”

One example of a new comedy based on a classic TV format is Dad’s Army – the Lost Episodes, which sees the old British sitcom remade using scripts from episodes that were destroyed from the BBC archive in the 60s for viewers to rediscover. This proved to be the group’s second most-viewed series, only behind Taskmaster, which was recently poached by Channel 4.

The streaming service UKTV Play is the on-demand service for much of the free-to-view channels, which is increasingly growing in importance and is one of the fastest-growing on-demand services in Britain, according to Cunningham.

“We are seeing our commissions, especially with the new content that we have to shout about, sit on that platform. Things like Hypothetical and Comedians Giving Lectures – what we do is ensure that we dedicate budget for communications and promo messaging to drive people to that platform, so we are giving people the option of a linear stream and the on-demand stream because we know that our audiences want to watch the content where they want and that is also definitely driving more of the behaviour to have less pressure on overnights in our world.”

Hypothetical, another of Dave’s shows is watched on average by 1.2 million people per episode when adding both streaming and overnight numbers, Cunningham reveals.

As to how social media is used by the in-house and media agency teams to drive the discovery of content, there is a growing budget being placed behind that activity.

“We are constantly looking at new ways of what was traditional media formats such radio or on-air promo are talking to social.”

One new innovation for social media is the introduction of an Ask Dave Anything feature on Instagram which allows viewers to ask questions of the channel which are then responded to in the channel’s adopted tone of voice.

“We are trying to connect the dots between social and on-air or connecting a poster or out of home digital advertising to our online stream so that the two things are talking to one another. We had outdoor billboards at Waterloo Train station where people could tweet an answer to a hypothetical question that would appear on a big screen.

"I’d like to say that they really do work hand-in-hand and with every campaign we make new learnings about how often we should be talking to people on social media when it comes to campaign spend.”

Another long-term partnership has seen UKTV work with media company Global Radio to run content through their radio stations, podcasts and out of home platforms.

“Global was a really interesting one for Dave as Global owns a festival business as well so we were experimenting by taking the Dave brand to festival spaces. Last year Dave was at the Victoria festival in Portsmouth, which we’d never done before and the next thing Dave’s witticisms were all over the festival which reached a younger audience because of it.

"We were taking Dave into the real world rather than it just living as a brand on the TV box. Partnerships are a great way of being able to leverage a like-minded brand but in completely different spaces.”

Another curious development Cunningham reveals is the use of Twitch to broadcast programmes that allow for real-time comments from users – including the surprise popularity of long-running crime soap opera The Bill.

“Nostalgia is a really interesting space for brands to explore more,” she states, citing Comedy Central’s success when running Friends, subsequently picked up by Netflix and driving both younger audience discovering the show and those who want to relive their memories of when it first ran, leading to the recent announcement of a one-off special being produced with the original cast.

Twitch is where the group has found its highest conversation rates where users click through to UKTV Play to discover more content subsequently.

“That gaming community for a channel like Dave, targeting younger audiences consuming content has proved very successful for us.”

Advertising other shows like Zapped and Comedians Giving Lectures has also proved a boon to younger audience figures through Twitch too, she adds.

TikTok is another channel partnership, lead alongside influencer marketing agency Fanbytes, to deliver a campaign promoting Hypothetical, asking users to undertake similar challenges to those features on the show.

Using such platforms has proven a success in driving an increase in the desired younger viewing audience and at a network level.

Cunningham tells The Drum that there is a desire to continue to boost perceptions of the channel brands to that group: “We hope those continue to rise because if the audiences are willing to engage with us onscreen as well as off-screen then those are the success metrics that we continue to monitor.”