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    Has TV lost young audiences forever? Marketers debate

    Each year, Ofcom releases a report detailing how media consumption is undergoing an unstoppable generational shift as fewer young people watch linear TV. The Drum asks marketing experts whether TV can (or needs to) win them back.

    This isn’t an exodus. Young people aren’t leaving TV so much as not picking up the habit in the first place. They have a wealth of devices and services at their disposal. Primarily, young people are the least likely to engage with linear TV, but across all ages subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) is high. 19.2m households (67%) say they had an SVOD sub, which is down 1% on 2020. Linear TV accounted for just a fifth of young people’s video viewing time. 

    Broadcasters need to attract those audiences on to their owned platforms or meet them on the ones they prefer – or both. 

    So while it’s true that some over-55s are getting well acquainted with streaming services, the Ofcom Media Nations Report released earlier this week found that 65-to-74-year-olds watched five hours and 50 minutes a day in 2021 – nearly seven times as much broadcast TV as children and young adults. Due to a drought of young audiences, it costs more to target young people. One way to solve this is simply to get more young audiences accessing broadcast TV by releasing buzzworthy formats they simply can’t miss (Love Island is the example that’s been pointed to for half a decade). 

    Like clockwork, the ‘what even is TV?’ debates returned. Some marketers were happy to compare the fleeting, short-form, algorithmically fed video consumed on user-generated content sites (such as TikTok) to the curated and scheduled shows and movies delivered on long-lived, Ofcom-regulated TV channels that have strident third-party measurement in place. Both have their spot in the media diet, but from a marketer POV there is greater uplift from appearing in or around a top IP on a broadcast medium than there is from interrupting a seemingly random stream of UGC.

    And while broadcasters would likely deny that this UCG is TV, they are certainly adapting their content to fit these formats. Channel 4 is making full series available on YouTube and has already launched a social studio to stock favored platforms with shows, while ITV is investing in gaming and creating studios tasked with connecting with these audiences to bring them back into the fore. 

    Regardless of what’s being watched on the burgeoning social channels or whether it is TV, according to Accenture’s Shane O’Leary on Twitter, the behavioral shift is “a MASSIVE headache for media planners and creates huge complexity for brands investing in video”.

    And on social, we’re all watching different things. According to Ofcom’s research, 69% of 15-to-17-year-olds and 65% of 18-to-24-year-olds watched short-form videos daily, compared to 12% of those aged 65+. Videos uploaded by friends and family (94%) and videos/vlogs by social media influencers (92%) were the most popular genres among 15-to-17-year-olds. Among 18-to-24-year-olds, videos uploaded by the general public won out (74%). ‘How to’ videos were most popular for 25-to-34-year-olds (69%) and for 35-to-44s (64%).

    Has the proliferation of video made ’TV’ too hard to buy? Here’s what the experts say...  

    Marketer response

    Geoff de Burca, chief strategy officer, MediaCom, claims that the “generation gap in media habits has reached a record high”. He says: “[The decline makes for] an alarming headline, however all audiences continue to watch hours of audio-visual content every day across a range of channels meaning smart marketers can maintain audience reach with a dynamic and diverse strategy enabling them to reach viewers wherever they may be.”

    He points out that “traditional broadcast television still holds an important place in the media habits of the country and therefore must be factored into any comprehensive advertising campaign”.

    All in all, the pressures of the last few years and the “significant” shifting habits have proven how marketers “need to ensure that their media strategy is agile enough to adapt to these changes,” he says.

    The research found that nine out of 10 18-to-24-year-old adults bypass TV channels to go straight to streaming, on-demand and social video services. Nicola Lewis, chief exec, Finecast, says: “The report highlights the degree of transformation traditional broadcasters have undertaken in order to reach audiences at scale and in new environments. Understanding evolved audience viewing habits, alongside macro-economic factors such as inflation and consumer trends, as well as increased investment in quality content are all important factors for brands and advertisers to consider as they seek to reach much valued, and at times hard to reach audiences.”

    Meanwhile, David Cloudsdale, co-founder at Adalyser, says: “The simple strategy of creating more content tailored to younger audiences to attract them to TV has been upended by SVOD and social platforms which have added convenience into the viewing mix.”

    But there have been some admirable efforts. He points to SkyGo’s Premier League highlights, which he says is “now available as a two-minute snippet, right after the match finishes, on your mobile phone“ rather than waiting for Match of The Day. “ITVX is another attempt to do this – new original content, skewed to younger audiences, available at a viewer’s convenience but, importantly, tied to the ITV brand that audiences of all ages can resonate with.”

    Alex Hole, vice-president of Samsung Ads Europe, adds that young people seek “easy-to-use services that give them the content they want at the click of a button”.

    But, he reminds advertisers, people do not ask themselves ‘is this TV?’ when they’re watching video. “They don’t care about how the content they are watching is classified, whether it’s BVOD, SVOD, AVOD or anything else. What is important to them is that they can access it with ease whenever and wherever they want to.”

    The advertiser‘s job, he admits, has never been more difficult when buying TV now that it is fragmented across “linear, streaming, gaming and even social video”.

    For more on the Future of TV, check out our hub.

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