TV a switch-off for teenagers with other things to watch

RTÉ to look at younger audiences, but those viewers are already looking elsewhere

Steeply declining viewing figures show it, but for real-time proof that teenagers consider television a creaky old “legacy medium”, ask one to sit down, TV listings in hand, for an evening in front of the box. It’s an eyeroll-inducing request on a par with suggesting they walk down to the shops, buy a newspaper and give it a leisurely read.

And for this “mobile-first” generation, their viewing choices are set to get even wider. In a clear threat to broadcast television, the digital platforms that younger consumers use every day, such as Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat, have signalled ever-more serious intentions of upping their video offering, including commissioning original content.

And for those who think online videos mostly involve cute kittens, consider the very different cats that US Snapchat users will be watching on February 17th. Under a commercial agreement with BBC Worldwide, the mobile messaging app will show a series of six-minute episodes of the flagship nature programme, Planet Earth II.

The series airs on TV in the US the following day and the deal with Snapchat – as with similar deals with ABC and NBC – is an example of broadcast TV leveraging a massive digital audience (Snapchat has158 million daily users).

And it’s proof for Snapchat its users are happy to watch mini-TV programmes. Last week, in a first for the messaging platform, it commissioned original content not based on an existing TV format – an unscripted relationship-themed series Second Chance to premiere on the app in April. That move represents a tentative dip into the world of broadcast TV, made at a time when Snapchat has announced a $3 billion IPO and so is keen to prove to investors it is covering all advertising bases.

Wider move

But it’s also part of a wider move by digital platforms, having so convincingly eaten print media’s lunch (dinner and tea), to colonise TV audiences where serious, big-brand advertising revenue still goes.

Last April, Facebook began trialling a dedicated video tab on its app where users in the US could find live broadcasts and archived video content.

Then, in a further, more explicit sign that it is boosting its video offering, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told analysts earlier this month that the platform would “experiment with longer forms of video and all kinds of different things” in the future. “I see video as a mega trend,” he said.

In blog post in January, Facebook said it had changed its algorithms so that longer videos would not be penalised when it comes to rankings in its news feed.

“We know that completing a longer video is a bigger commitment than completing a shorter one,” the statement said, leaving the obvious motivation unspoken: that it wants its users to spend more time engaged on the site – longer viewing means greater exposure to advertising.

And while there is no indication, yet, that the social network is going head-to-head with Netflix or Amazon, still favouring short “snackable” videos made by users, Facebook’s Ricky van Veen, in a statement to industry magazine Variety last year, said: “We’re exploring funding some seed video content, including original and licensed scripted, unscripted and sports content.”

Less than two years ago, YouTube launched YouTube Red, a video-on-demand subscription service where US users (it’s not in Europe yet) pay $10 a month to watch videos without advertising, and it has commissioned original content, including several series, as well as serving as a broadcast platform.

Its commissioning of 10 45-minute episodes of the popular US dance franchise Step Up last year indicates two things – it is confident its users have the staying power for that length of a video, and it has its sights firmly on a young demographic.

Heaviest users

The most recent figures for Irish TV viewing – the TAM Ireland/Nielsen figures for 2016 – show that adults watch four hours and 34 minutes of TV a day and that the “heaviest” viewers are aged 55-plus. The “lightest” by far, at less than half the viewing-time average, were aged 15-24.

In the US, in its end-of-year round-up Nielsen noted that between 2011 and 2016, television viewing by 18-24-year-olds dropped by roughly one hour and 20 minutes a day. It noted that, in just five years, 40 per cent of this age group’s traditional television consumption has migrated elsewhere, mostly to other screens.

Last week at an RTÉ Media Sales presentation, director general Dee Forbes spoke of looking “very seriously” at how it caters for the 15-34-year-old audience as part of a review of all of its channels and services.

Disregarding the very wide “younger” demographic – does a 15-year-old currently sitting their mock Junior Cert this week have that much in common with a 34 year-old? – there’s no doubt that the viewing habits of younger people, from teens to mid-20s, are already very different to that of an older audience, and that the real competition is not just from other broadcasters but from the likes of Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube, which already have a headstart, being already literally in the hands of the target audience.