2020. A year like no other. And one many of us would like to forget.
But the year has had long-lasting impacts that have changed many aspects of our society indefinitely.
One of those aspects being particularly relevant to us PRs – especially those working in broadcast PR - how young people consume the news.
I believe it is now easier than ever before to reach young people on the broadcast landscape.
Before last year, the only times we found ourselves watching the news together at the same times was: elections (remember youthquake?), when a major celebrity died or a royal wedding. But when the pandemic hit, whoever you were, from wherever you were, you would find yourself tuning in to the Daily Downing Street press conference.
The uncertainty and unknown attracted viewers to TV news like never before, with OFCOM reporting that in March 2020 the BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4 and 5 shared their highest combined monthly share of broadcast TV viewing than six years.
Nobody wanted to miss a beat, and everyone wanted to be the first to write in the WhatsApp group about what Boris, Matt or Chris had said, even though we all knew… We were all watching it… at the same time.
What has this got to do with young people?
Data specifically on young people (those aged 16-24) watching TV news is scarce given that the age group is 'lumped in' with 'adults'.
However, research shows that this age group interacted more with broadcast news outlets over social media (an increase of 3% on Facebook, 4% on Twitter and 3% on Instagram, OFCOM 2020) it is therefore highly likely that this age group made up a significant proportion of new viewers.
It does beg the question – why doesn't broadcast do more to share audience insight?
It was clear to me that young adults and teenagers – those who stereotypically aren't 'interested' in the news or politics, were engaged in TV news throughout the pandemic in a way they hadn't been previously.
Arguably, this was because the news became a guidebook on elements impacting actual day to day life – rather than merely people shouting at each other about issues. Now, if you're wondering why I've stated what might seem like the obvious, it's because of a question we often get asked by clients.
"How do we reach a younger audience?"
Look, we all know that social media is one of the best ways to reach young people, but there has been a change you need to know about in the broadcast world. The assumption many previously had was that to target young people on broadcast; they needed to hit the likes of Kiss and Capital. Interestingly, the latest data on this shows that only 13% of 16-24s listen to Kiss FM for news (and 27% for Capital). However, we also know that those stations need big talent to gain cut-through, which can be challenging for many brands. However, in my experience as a broadcast consultant working during the pandemic, I believe that things have structurally changed. I believe it is now easier than ever before to reach young people on broadcast – and you don't necessarily need huge talent, Kiss or Capital FM.
Right now, 16 – 24-year-olds are tuning into the likes of BBC One, ITV (51%) and Sky News 33%. All major outlets have reported a significant increase in viewership and with more young people at home than ever before, they will also be watching. As an example, BBC Breakfast recently reporting a record year - viewers requested to stream the show live almost 80m times in 2020, which is up 56% year-on-year. We also know that major broadcasters such as Sky and BBC are putting more time, money and effort into targeting these areas to attract that elusive younger audience. CBBC and BBC2 are both running daily schedules of primary and secondary education content – bringing more young people than ever before into the broadcast eco-system. Finally, the reality is that like many other things; young people tend to follow in their parents' footsteps – with many simply digesting the content their parents choose. Outlets are acutely aware of this. We're more and more examples of broadcast content that would one-moment appeal to a parenting audience and the next pivot that would likely talk more to a youth-led audience.
So, the 'oldies' are vital at reaching the younguns
However, I think the pandemic has been only one part of the resurgence in young people engaging with broadcast news. The other part? The incredible role models which are inspiring future generations. Whether it's 18-year-old Greta Thunberg fighting for climate change, 23-year-old Marcus Rashford pressurising the government to feed children from disadvantaged backgrounds or 29-year-old Dr Alex George pursuing awareness around mental health at the moment young people find themselves often leading the news agenda. These people are also bringing with them a whole new audience of young viewers. What is clear is that broadcast is engaging more and more with role models who are in tune with the issues young people care about. Ask yourself – is your brand doing the same?
So what do us PRs need to do?
Keep up with the times. And stay with them. I'm not saying you need to learn a whole new dictionary or lingo, or annoyingly hover around your children and their friends but being aware of what young people are doing and looking at is key. And I think it is important to note you need to be hearing this directly from young people themselves – not from those 'gurus' who are often a few months behind the curve.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know the power of TikTok has had on younger generations during the pandemic. This alone tells us as PRs and brands that interesting, short, fun video content will help you with your mission. TikTok is an incredibly visual medium – which sounds a lot like how I would describe TV. And what does TV need? Strong video content which engages its audiences.
Will BRoll morph into TikTok style videos? Maybe…
If you aren't looking at this – it is fine because outlets and competitors will be… You'll just be left behind. Video on social has always been a strong route to reaching younger audiences – but are you considering that content across broadcast too now that there has been a merge of these audiences during the pandemic? Think about your latest campaign or release – did you connect your social assets to TV and Radio (who also focus heavily on social content)? Did you give TV outlets a longer-form version of the content you might have used for TikTok to support a story? Now that TV has relaxed many of its rules around spokespeople being in the studio or only using their own crews – we've all seen the rise and rise of Zoom interviews – are you putting your best assets forward which appeal to younger viewers? For example, do your speakers represent young people? Who within your brand can talk to the issues that young people care about with gravitas? For a long time, the younger generations have ripped up the rulebook of engagement. And it seems that combined with the pandemic; they have done it again.