March 15, 2017Why Britons expect diversity from the BBC

Britain is more diverse than ever, but according to its new regulator, the BBC is failing to represent its full audience adequately. Sharon White, head of Ofcom, warned that it needs to stop catering so heavily to middle class, middle aged Britons at the expense of old, young and minority viewers. We offer insights into what Britons expect from a broadcaster and why diversity in media matters. After all, 91% of Gen Yers believe everyone should be treated equally, and they want to see that equality translate to their televisions and radios.

Katy Young

Ofcom, which is about to take over as the BBC’s regulator, conducted research into current attitudes towards the BBC and found that while people see the institution as “integral to British society”, they are unimpressed by its current state. “Many people we spoke to felt the BBC was overly focused on middle-aged, middle-class audiences,” said Sharon White. “They said it could do more for the wider public, ethnic minorities and younger groups.” White also reported that older people, women in particular, think they are negatively portrayed on television in general. “People from a minority group – whether a distinct region of the country or a particular ethnicity – feel that they are neutrally portrayed at best, or negatively at worst,” says White. “These are challenges the whole industry can – and must – address.”

Minority groups are increasingly demanding better representation and marginal age groups are no different – 90% of Britons think there is too much age and generational stereotyping in the media. So what can the BBC change to better appeal to a broad range of viewers? Ofcom’s research found that “younger groups often saw a lack of risk-taking,” and said the “BBC was not offering enough edgy content, or services relevant to them,” and with BBC3 having already removed from terrestrial TV, there's work to be done. The Beeb could take a leaf out of Netflix’s book for advice on both courting controversy and challenging stereotypes, especially given the streaming service is currently giving BBC iPlayer a run for its money.

Katy Young is a behavioural analyst at Canvas8, which specialises in behavioural insights and consumer research. She has a degree in American Studies and Film and an MA in Journalism. Her interests include wild swimming, thinking of podcast ideas and singing in an all-female choir.

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