On-demand, new-form content presents big challenge to industry

For a long time, I’ve been cautious of conflating my viewing habits with those of the wider British public, or of overstating the on-demand revolution.

It’s easy to get carried away: linear TV remains powerful – witness the overnight ratings of ITV’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? revival despite the glorious sunshine last weekend. But once you’re sucked away from the TV environment, it’s easy to stay away.

After watching Clarkson dish out some gentle ribbing of his contestants, I found myself caught in a YouTube spiral after seeking out Childish Gambino’s This Is America video on our connected TV. This weird mix of quiz shows and hip-hop speaks to the freedom of modern viewing – if such a variety of content is available at any time, why stick to a schedule?

Our analysis of shifting viewing habits focuses on consumption. More than a third of British households now take an SVoD service, with Amazon leading the growth charge. Amazon, Netflix and Now TV have gone from being new entrants or optional extras to staple services within British TV.

According to Barb, almost two-thirds (63%) of 16 to 24 year-olds pay for a subscription product. That focus on youth is worth exploring, as the on-demand revolution is not just about changes in consumption patterns, but in the type of content too.

YouTube’s Training Days from Fulwell 73 is a conventional long-form show, but is accompanied by 14 short-form episodes of three to 10 minutes. That sounds like a canny combination.

“Execs are admitting that the type of content the industry creates doesn’t really resonate with their kids”

Just in the past fortnight, three or four high-profile figures have told me that their teenage children “don’t watch TV”. That used to mean their kids had moved from TV sets to mobiles, and from linear viewing to on-demand – but there was residual reassurance in the sense they were still watching British-made TV shows.

Now I’m not so sure. I think execs are admitting that the type of content the industry creates doesn’t really resonate with their kids.

There are caveats a-plenty here – most notably, the fact that Love Island will be back on screen in three or four weeks’ time. But I’m not sure too many broadcasters would claim that they have the youth market cracked.

That makes the likes of ITV2, E4 and BBC3 more important than ever in attracting and satisfying a new generation of viewers – yet only the latter of that trio has a dedicated controller. Might giving those channels more influential strategic leadership and a bigger budget pay dividends?

The BBC handed BBC3 a £10m boost in March. It will be interesting to see whether others follow suit, and whether the corporation is prepared to invest even more funds.

Chris curtis

Chris Curtis is the editor of Broadcast