How the Younger Generation Consume the News

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 particularly relevant aspect to PRs – especially those working in broadcast PR – is how the younger generations consume the news differently post-pandemic.

It is now easier to reach young people in the broadcast landscape. Before last year, the only times we watched the news together were elections (remember youthquake?), when a major celebrity died, or a royal wedding. But when the pandemic hit, whoever you were, wherever you’re from, you would find yourself tuning into 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 Channel 5 shared their highest combined monthly share of broadcast TV viewing in six years.

Nobody wanted to miss a beat, and everyone wanted to be the first to write about what Boris, Matt or Chris had said in the WhatsApp group, even though we all knew – we were all watching it simultaneously!

What Has This Got to do With Young People?

Data 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). Therefore, it is 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?

Clearly, 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 day-to-day life rather than 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 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 considerable talent to gain cut-through, which can be challenging for many brands. In my experience as a broadcast consultant working during the pandemic, I believe things have structurally changed. I believe it is now easier to reach young people on broadcast and that you don’t necessarily need colossal talent, Kiss, or Capital FM.

Currently, 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, they will also be watching. For example, the BBC Breakfast recently reported a record year – viewers requested to stream the show live almost 80m times in 2020, 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 run daily primary and secondary education content schedules, bringing more young people 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. More examples of broadcast content would one-moment appeal to a parenting audience, and the next pivot 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 who 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, these people are also bringing a whole new audience of young viewers. What is clear is that broadcast engages 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 PRs Need to Do?

Keep up with the times and stay with them. I’m not saying you need to learn new vocabulary or annoyingly hover around your children and their friends, but being aware of what young people are doing and looking at is critical. And I think it is essential to note you need to be hearing this directly from young people themselves – not from the ‘gurus’ who are often a few months behind.

You will be aware of the power of TikTok. This alone tells PRs and brands that interesting, short, fun video content will help you with your mission. TikTok is an incredibly visual medium. What does TV need? Strong video content which engages audiences.

Will B-Roll Morph into TikTok Style Videos? Maybe

It is okay if you aren’t looking at this because outlets and competitors will be, and you’ll just be left behind. Video on social media has always been a solid route to reaching younger audiences, but are you considering disseminating that content across broadcast too? Think about your latest campaign or release – did you connect your social assets to TV and radio? 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 crews, are you putting forward assets that appeal to younger viewers? For example, do your speakers represent young people? Who within your brand can talk to the issues young people care about? 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.