Public broadcasters, Young People and Content of the Future

Staff Writer

How can public broadcasters become part of the lives of a young generation who have grown up with digital technology and access to all the information in the world?

That was the focus at the annual PBI (Public Broadcasting International) conference, held in September 2016, in Montreal, Canada.  Public broadcasters from around the globe met in one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world to compare notes and plan for the future.

Most public broadcasters are grappling with the same issues as the ABC – that audiences for the majority of our TV and radio content are predominantly aged 50+ (or older) and unless something changes, a generation of young adults may never be attracted to what public broadcasters offer.

Around the world, there are plenty of fascinating projects starting to appear that are stretching the boundaries of traditional broadcasters.  From satiricalnews in Switzerland, to social experiments in Finland, online comics in New Zealand, charity drives in Sweden, and large scale generational surveys in France and across Europe.

In Montreal, Canada’s Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) themselves announced a new project, Next Generation/Prochaine Génération, hiring 15-20 ‘millennials’ to experiment with new kinds of communication and conversation starting.

In Britain, the BBC has made perhaps the boldest move towards transforming itself for younger audiences. This year, youth TV network BBC Three has evolved from a TV channel, to an online, on-demand model. The network budget was halved and now produces video content for BBC iPlayer, social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube, and provides content for BBCONE and BBC2 TV networks. The early signs are that this move to digital first has actually lost younger audiences for the BBC; however BBC Three is only just beginning its transformation and needs to be judged on its longer term ambitions.

In Australia, we can take the ABC’s youth service triple j for granted.  However triple j is a unique example in the international sphere. It’s an entirely independent network dedicated to young audiences, local culture, music and issues and it has been successful across a growing range of platforms for young Australians.  It does all this on a very small budget in terms of the overall ABC resource.

The ABC has given triple j space and occasional reinvestment to evolve quickly to keep up with its new audience, finding new fans via social media, on-demand video, and innovative projects like triple j Unearthed. triple j has used these platforms to let audiences find high quality content and have a conversation with each other around it, developing a large community of young Australians interested in music, issues and each other. The opinions may differ, but the values shared are largely the same.

And true to this, while the PBI 2016 conference covered a lot of ground, the feeling at the end of the conference was that younger audiences did have very similar values to public broadcasters. They value independent and balanced information.  They are interested in the world around them.  They want to express themselves to make a positive difference in the world.

Those values aren’t unique to the current generation of twenty-somethings. It’s the technology and access that has changed. Subsequently, the way public broadcasters have traditionally shared culture, told stories and discussed issues with the audience needs to keep evolving, and keep evolving quickly.

Moreover, public broadcasters will need to invest even more in new ways of creating and sharing content.  If we’re serious about serving young audiences, we can’t expect them to settle for cheap and easy solutions.  We will need to employ and empower young media makers to make content that works for themselves and their peers, rather than slotting their ideas and interests into existing ways of working.

And importantly, we need to commit to this, even if it comes at the expense of older audiences and the traditional public media heartland.  It’s time for the next generation to be given control of independent public broadcasting.

About Chris Scadden:

Chris Scaddan is Head of Music and oversees all music content on ABC Radio stations, brands and platforms.


You can also read more on the ABC Access Blog here.

Comment Form

Your email address will not be published.

Recent comments (0)
Post new comment

Related news


See all