Wednesday, April 27, 2005

TV's lost generation

It doesn't seem very long ago that we were all worried about how much television teenagers were watching. Not any more. The problem, for the TV industry at least, is that viewing hours among all young people are declining. While children's TV is protected by regulation, programming for teenagers has been in decline, with most 11-18 year-olds now choosing adult shows as their favourites.

This "lost generation" of TV viewers was the subject of an interesting debate at BAFTA in London on Monday evening, with contributions from a range of industry insiders, as well as from young people themselves.

The bottom line is that, as one audience member put it, while children have grown increasingly sophisticated as TV consumers, the regulations covering content have not kept pace. Programme-makers steer clear of controversy, making it difficult for children's TV to tackle the kind of issues that teenagers are interested in.

The teenagers themselves said that they wanted more comedy and drama aimed at them, but, as producer Richard Langridge pointed out, slots in the schedule are not being made available. He, and several other contributors, argued that BBC 3, which was originally targeted at those 16+ but is now aiming for people aged over-24, had been a missed opportunity.

Elaine Sperber, Head of CBBC Drama, admitted that the teenage audience was being short-changed, and said that the BBC was looking at new ways of delivering content to them.

Could there be a new teen channel? Trouble and Nickelodean have been very successful, and many of the young people in the audience complained about the lack of a homemade equivalent.

The UK can do teen programming. Hollyoaks is a mainstream hit, and As If showed that more experimental approaches can also succeed. What is needed, it was agreed, is commitment from senior management, especially within the BBC, to make slots (6.30 on BBC 2, for example) and money available.

Representatives from Ofcom said that they had already commented on the lack of programming for teenagers. The consensus at BAFTA on Monday night was that a concerted campaign was required to persuade the broadcasters to do something about it.

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