2015 trends: Broadcasters will spend much of 2015 battling for the hearts and minds of young viewers.

Young people are watching less traditional television in favour of online pursuits such as Facebook, YouTube or watching on demand services like Netflix and BBC iPlayer, said Ofcom last month.

The regulator thinks the generation gap between older and younger viewers is getting wider in terms of TV viewing. It found that 16-24 year olds spent an average of 148 minutes a day watching TV in 2013, down from 169 minutes in 2010 – compared to an average of 232 minutes for all viewers.

Given these findings, the relaunch of BBC3 as an online only channel later this year will be watched very closely by all broadcasters and producers.

BBC3 is being axed as a TV channel principally to save money, but also to reinvent the service for a young audience that is increasingly online.

The decision to focus the channel on two “editorial pillars” – Make Me Laugh and Make Me Think – attracted some derision after initial details of plans for BBC3 were announced. However, it’s clear the corporation sees the relaunch of BBC3 as a key experiment in how it can keep in touch with the licence fee payers of the future.

Director general Tony Hall says he wants BBC3 to be a pathfinder for the whole BBC, searching out new ways to engage and entertain young audiences on their terms.  “What we learn from this process, and we’ll learn a lot, we’ll use to set a new strategic direction for the BBC and reinvent public service for the digital world.”

Director of television Danny Cohen insists that linear television is going to remain strong for a long time yet – and that channels and scheduling are still very important for audiences.

“But I am struck every single day by the pace of digital change going on around us, and what that means for both the BBC and our overall media experience.”

In particular, he says the media behaviour of young people is changing fast “and we need to be part of it.”

“For me as a broadcaster that means we need to succeed for perhaps the next five years in a hybrid world – it is going to be a world of linear and digital, broadcast and narrowcast, global and personal – we are going to have to be good at all of them.”

The BBC – and by implication other broadcasters – have two options, he says. “Do we sit back as a legacy company and watch the generational change bite away at our impact or do we take a place at the forefront of that change? We need to learn, fail, learn again, innovate and succeed. “

The BBC charter renewal process will begin in earnest after May’s election. To secure the licence fee, the corporation will have to prove that it can appeal to as broad an audience as possible in the face of unprecedented digital upheaval. In this context, the success or failure of the BBC3 relaunch could have far reaching implications.

Tim Dams

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