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How High-End Series Attract Millennial Viewers, Even on Linear TV

In the online era, finding global content that wins over younger audiences, and the advertising dollars they attract, poses one of TV’s biggest challenges. Digital savvy under-35s have more entertainment options than any previous generation. For starters, there are Netflix, Facebook Watch and YouTube. But the right show, smartly promoted and distributed, can still cut through, as the international success of epic drama “Game of Thrones” and formats including “Love Island” and “The Masked Singer” have proved. Commissioning millennial-friendly, high-end fare is one way broadcasters are competing with the tech giants.

“‘Game of Thrones’ is a global phenomenon with youth audience on linear TV,” says Julian Aquilina, a researcher at U.K. media analyst Enders. “Every time it returns, the show gets bigger and bigger. Clearly with the right shows you can still attract young audiences. It’s just that a lot more of those shows are being bought up by SVOD services.”

In the U.K., the BBC recently gave the second season of “Fleabag,” popular with the under-35s on both sides of the Atlantic, a late-night showcase on flagship channel BBC1 to complement its online distribution. But as viewing habits are evolving at different stages around the world, using a linear platform to reach millennials is not always a good idea.

In Scandinavia, for example, linear channels are being nixed as streaming takes over. Says Danish pubcaster DR Ung’s head of youth content, Kasper Tøstesen: “Linear TV viewing is dropping faster in the Nordics than in the U.K. and the U.S. Four or five years ago we saw that coming and started developing and producing shows that worked well on streaming services.”

DR targeted specific genres: documentary, drama and reality. Programs that worked well on linear, such as panel shows, live events or presenter-led series, were jettisoned.

And in contrast to programmers who believe that humor is a turn-on for the youthful audience, DR struck a new note of seriousness.

“Young people today are having to deal with issues that their predecessors didn’t have to. It’s a generation where there’s lots of pressure to be perfect,” Tøstesen says. “There is so much hunger for fictional shows that reflect the issues young people face in their own lives. This generation watches so much scripted content. But there is not a lot of content that talks about the lives they live and is relevant to them as individuals. There’s a gap in the market.”

DR has worked to fill that gap with “stories that are extremely authentic without any filter,” he says. This includes the 10-part “Doggystyle,” written and directed by Anna Emma Haudal that debuted in December.

In the U.S., following the success of the South Korean reality format “The Masked Singer,” which was shown on Fox earlier this year, there is anticipation over an adaptation of British reality format “Love Island”; the ITV Studios series is due to bow on CBS later this year. A local version was a breakout show in Germany for RTL11, where the third season is in the pipeline. Second runs are being planned on TV4 in Sweden and Oz’s Nine network.

The success in the U.K. of “Love Island,” which as stripped nightly for a month in summer, was attributed, in part, to the social-media buzz the show generated, as well as ITV’s determination to make the series available online as soon as possible after linear transmission.

Part of the attraction of “Love Island” to buyers is that the show is a good vehicle to grow their networks’ on-demand platforms.

“The under-35 audience is funnier and faster than we are as TV producers,” admits Mike Beale, managing director, Nordics and global creative network, at ITV Studios. “‘Love Island’ managed to tap into that. They could be funny about it on social media and bought into ‘Love Island’s’ irreverence.”

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