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Maggie Brown: How can TV attract young audiences for new shows?

Channel 4 still appeals to younger audiences with offerings such as Hollyoaks. Photo: Jamie Fry/Lime Pictures Channel 4 still appeals to younger audiences with offerings such as Hollyoaks. Photo: Jamie Fry/Lime Pictures
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My best outing in recent weeks was to Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s highly original production of The Tempest at the Redgrave Theatre in Clifton, and realising that a little girl I had watched grow up was now an actor. I stayed on to peek at my old university, meet some students and book for Owen Sheers’ Afghan drama, Pink Mist.

All of this mingling came soon after the decision to move the BBC’s youth channel, BBC3, online and to take it off air. Mixing with those young adults targeted by BBC3, I was interested to see whether anyone was complaining about its absence. Not a squeak.

They are far too busy to be tied to a regular TV channel. The only concern came from a 22-year old student, who loves bought-in cartoon show Family Guy. But that has been snapped up by ITV2, one of the channels – along with E4 – that gains from BBC3’s changes. In addition, new BBC3 shows, including sitcom Cuckoo, are being screened on BBC1, while also joining the top 10 of streamed programmes.

This deafening silence shows how relatively easy it can be to close or amalgamate services if their roots are weak, and may tempt the cost-cutting BBC further. The era of digital expansion into TV channels is at an end. But it also illustrates how generational tastes and habits are surging into play and may divide us, which is something that hits home if you compare audiences at the fringe with established venues.

Though, on the other hand, with more than a third of British adults paying for video-on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime (but mainly viewing on TV screens or tablets rather than laptops), it also seems that these handy services are being adopted pretty widely by the under-55s. More generally, it seems obvious that the government should move very carefully over possible plans to disrupt Channel 4, perhaps by selling it off.

This is the one well-resourced public service broadcaster that has a younger-than-average audience, a real connection with black, Asian and minority ethnic audiences, unlike BBC2, and produces strands from Hollyoaks and Fresh Meat to First Dates, and lots of edgy content that speaks to them… while Gogglebox reaches everyone.

On that point, the hunt is on for drama that appeals to everyone, and coming up after Easter is an excellent example of ITV’s new turn. The Durrells, a comedy drama based on Gerald Durrell’s Corfu experiences, is penned by master writer Simon Nye, stars the wonderful Keeley Hawes, and reminds me of The Darling Buds of May, which made a star of one Catherine Zeta Jones.

The question British TV producers pose is: how do you alert younger people who don’t watch TV very much to new programmes, if they don’t see trailers? The answer, of course, is learn to use social media and messaging apps: regard the smartphone as your ally.

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