BBC Broadcasting House
Credit: Flickr

Public service media are struggling to connect with younger and less formally educated audiences online, a study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) has found.

The study, called Old, Educated and Politically Diverse: The Audience of Public Service News looked at the demographics of public broadcasters in eight countries across Europe. It revealed that weekly online reach for under 25-year-olds has fallen at almost all of the organisations since 2016.

In a podcast with, lead author of the report and RISJ research fellow Anne Schulz, explained why public service media (PSMs) are staring irrelevance in the face.

"The competition is just much bigger than it has been for offline broadcasting," she said. "The study shows that public service news struggle to reach these audiences online because they spend their time elsewhere."

Schulz warned that failing to reach audiences online could result in them being unable to win them back in the future.

The more pressing problem, however, is that when young audiences do come into contact with new content, other news outlets might be doing a better job giving them what they desire most: relevant and personalised content.

So PSMs need to follow suit, review their strategy on social media and question whether they are truly connecting with younger audiences.

It is clear, however, that many PSM are not connecting online, as BBC was the only news organisation to have a higher reach online than offline. Schulz credits this to the decision by the organisation to start implementing digital strategies in the 1990s, in contrast to Finland’s Yle which did so from 2007.

Despite this, a report by Ofcom published last week was critical of BBC’s approach to attracting younger audiences, explaining that the broadcaster needs to do "much more" to meet their needs.

The report said that, while the BBC has launched initiatives to extend its appeal, they are not far-reaching enough. Instead, they should produce distinctive, innovative content to reach younger audiences on platforms they frequently use.

Solving this is not as simple as starting up a TikTok account, though. The trick to engaging with this audience is to cater specifically to their interests and not overload content with information, Schulz said.

She added that it helps to find out first-hand how make news content can be made interesting and engaging to millennial and Gen Z audiences.

The report also found that all the public broadcasters included in the study, including the BBC, struggled to reach those less formally educated. Schulz suggested this again comes down to whether or not the news is presented in the right format.

"Similar initiatives or ideas used to attract younger audiences should be pushed forward in order to address less educated individuals."

The need to do is made more important as public serve media has a responsibility to give a voice to unheard communities.

"If it’s not for public news providers to display this diversity we have in our society, then we fear that nobody else is doing it," she concluded.

Want to know how to use breaking news to grow your audience? Find out how at Newsrewired on 27 November at Reuters, London. Head to for the full agenda and tickets

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).