Credit: Photo by Luke Porter on Unsplash

BBC has called on the UK broadcast regulatory body Ofcom to help secure the news audiences of the future and adapt to a rapidly changing digital landscape.

Recent reports have suggested that the public service media (PSM) are at risk of becoming irrelevant to the next generation of news audiences, although the BBC is said to be better than other PSMs at embracing much-needed new digital strategies.

Being muscled out by online competition is a concern that is felt right across the news industry. Ofcom found that less than half of 16-24-year-olds were tuning into BBC TV channels in a typical week, and, more worryingly, that iPlayer usage is dropping against the ascendancy of other streaming services like Netflix. asked Clare Sumner, director of policy, BBC, on a panel at Westminster Media Forum this week (12 November 2019) how the public broadcaster plans to respond.

Modernising the iPlayer has seen a rise by a third in usage within young audience over the last six months, she claimed. When the streaming service was first introduced in 2007, the seven-day catch-up proved a key annoyance to many viewers.

Fast forward to 2019 and some content has more than 12 months of shelf life, while the relatively recent BBC Sounds - some might say a response to Spotify - is proving a hit with "steady" news consumption. But Sumner was critical of how these changes took over a year to get over the line.

"When you think about the pace at which Netflix and everyone else is changing, that is too long. That’s because we have analogue regulation in a digital world," she explained.

She added that the broadcaster wants to take more proposals to Ofcom to innovate digital platforms further, with a key focus on BBC Sounds in the backdrop of the podcast boom.

"On digital platforms you get a lot of feedback and we want to change quickly and develop new services.

"Ofcom is going to have to help us move at a greater speed within this framework but it’s going to be a question in the mid-term review about how we modernise regulation and how that can impact other public service broadcasters."

Alison Preston, co-director and head of research, Ofcom outlined the extent to which young audiences are present on digital platforms compared to their older counterparts.

76 per cent of of 16-24-year-olds receive their news through social media, about five times more than the over 65s, according to recent findings from the News consumption in the UK: 2019 report.

Preston said it is an indicator of key shifts in generational motivation to consume news.

"Older people are more likely to emphasise the civic aspect of news as the impetus; young people are more functionalist in their relationship with the news," she explained.

"They follow it to have something to talk about, to pass the time, to use as a social currency and to be entertained by it too."

The future of news is set to be more mobile, more personalised and more passive, concluded Preston. But with the BBC's global audience of 426 million people, Sumner added that the broadcaster must adapt quickly to this shift.

"Younger people and others, particularly in this ever-changing society, are really valuing ethical organisations, those with public purposes and think about social good - obviously the BBC’s place in that debate is really important," she concluded.

Get to grips with a framework for planning audience growth at Newsrewired on 27 November at Reuters, London. Head to for the full agenda and tickets

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