Coronavirus Causes BBC to ‘Reassess’ Long-Term Plans with More Focus on VOD and Younger Viewers

Coronavirus Causes BBC to 'Reassess' Long-Term Plans
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The coronavirus pandemic has led the BBC to reassess its long-term strategic plans, with the U.K. public broadcaster saying it will place even more emphasis on online viewing and younger viewers as a result.

Publishing its Annual Plan today, the BBC said the pandemic had led to a rapid acceleration of long-term trends toward online viewing and an increase in younger viewers tuning in to its services.

“We will need to accelerate the shift of spend across our video content, to provide more value for younger audiences and to support the growth of iPlayer,” said the BBC in its Annual Plan.

The broadcaster cited record-breaking usage of the BBC iPlayer video-on-demand platform during the pandemic. Since the U.K. lockdown was announced on March 23, BBC iPlayer has had nearly 1 billion requests – 61% higher than the same seven-week period last year.

The BBC says it has also improved its performance with young adults in the lockdown period, claiming to reach eight out of ten young people. “Far from ‘turning their backs on the BBC,’ as some have suggested, they have been embracing our news and shows such as ‘Normal People,’” said the BBC.

Such a comment is a sign that the BBC looks increasingly confident about taking the fight more aggressively to international streamers, which have eaten away at its share of younger viewers in recent years.

As part of the focus on younger audiences, the BBC yesterday said it’s considering bringing BBC Three back on air, four years after the youth-skewing brand was moved online. It is thought likely the BBC free up the money for this by taking its BBC Four channel online. In its plan, the BBC revealed: “We are exploring potential commercial opportunities for BBC Four to become a new global subscription service that takes our strengths in specialist factual to the world stage.”

Across all its services, the BBC says it now accounts for roughly 24% of all U.K. video, audio and online time spent by the average adult in a week – including YouTube, social media, general browsing, shopping and search. By contrast, it says Netflix is around 3% of that time.

Within linear and on-demand TV, the U.K broadcaster estimates the BBC is around 31% of time compared with around 9% for Netflix.

Looking ahead, BBC said the coronavirus pandemic and its ensuing economic downturn is likely to accelerate structural changes in the media market.

“The detailed implications remain unclear, and are likely to be so for some time, but we can already see some of the more likely impacts of the pandemic. We have used these to reassess the BBC’s long-term strategic plans in light of anticipated changes and the BBC’s own financial challenges,” the BBC report stated.

BBC director general Tony Hall has previously said that the broadcaster would focus more on the iPlayer in light of competition from global streamers like Netflix and Amazon.

Today, however, the BBC said the surge in VOD reach and use during lockdown is likely to endure once the pandemic has passed – and stressed that it would look to adapt quickly to the market changes.

The BBC pointed to other threats to viewing that have accelerated during the pandemic, citing in particular a significant increase in gaming, video calling, eSports and video sharing on platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

“While the long-term shift here is unclear, they are likely to gain more traction the longer lockdowns continue and traditional TV and filmmaking is paused,” said the BBC’s Annual Plan.

“Our overall aim for the next two years is to respond to these changing viewing habits among young adults aged 16-34, and keep pace with that group better. We want to keep the viewing time audiences aged 35-54 spend with us over four hours a week. We will keep delivering a high-quality offer to those aged over 55 and keep their consumption high, above 10 hours a week.”

Elsewhere, the BBC said it is now ready to return to program production within weeks should conditions and government advice allow. Filming on “EastEnders” and “Top Gear” is due to start again by the end of next month.