The BBC has been instructed to take more risks to halt a decline in its young and ethnic minority audiences in a review by the BBC Trust.
The review of all four of the BBC’s main TV channels published by the BBC Trust singled out BBC1 for harsh criticism, saying the main channel was guilty of “playing it safe” and needed to show “more creative ambition”.
The average age of BBC1 viewers has grown to 59 from 56 in 2010/11, it said, while the average age of people watching BBC2 had also grown, from 58 to 60.
BBC television’s reach has fallen fastest among younger viewers and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) audiences. Director general Tony Hall last month outlined a range of measures to improve the BBC’s appeal among BAME audiences.
The BBC Trust said it would consider the BBC’s decision to axe the BBC3 TV channel, making it online only as part of a package of measures to save a further £100 million, in a separate report. But it said the channel had strong appeal among BAME audiences and stood out from other channels aimed at young people, and warned that it had not yet established itself as an online presence barely a year before the TV channel is due to close, in October 2015.
The Trust said: “BBC3 has yet to establish itself as an online destination, with the trust’s research showing that awareness of any digital innovation or experimentation by BBC3 online, beyond iPlayer, was low.”
The report said some viewers did not find BBC1 sufficiently distinctive “in important ways” and it had to take “more creative risks in programming and scheduling choices”.
It said 63 per cent of airtime between 7pm and 9pm on BBC1 was taken up by just 10 programmes, fuelling a perception among some viewers that it “played it safe” and relied on familiar hits. The Trust said BBC1 needed to refresh its entertainment output and innovate more with its factual programmes at 9pm. It praised its recent drama output which it said “demonstrates that BBC1 can successfully offer more challenging dramas to large audiences”.
Despite a decline in reach for BBC2, the Trust said the channel’s loyal audience “believe firmly” in its quality … offering something different from the other channels with distinctive dramas and original comedies”.
“The only area where viewers felt BBC2 might offer something more … is its treatment of challenging contemporary issues,” it said.
There was also praise for BBC4 which “while remaining niche continues to gain popularity and has the highest [audience appreciation] of any channel”.
It is the only one of the four BBC channels to increase its weekly reach, but like BBC1 and BBC2 it is also getting older, with growth greatest among the over 55s.