Wanted: 17-24 yr olds…

Yesterday (err, Tuesday) I took part in a very enjoyable OU/BBC brainstorming session on “multiplatform ideas for a younger audience (17-24 yr olds)…as a new way of working for the future”.

(I asked: multiplatform is pretty much everything that is not “linear TV”, where “linear TV” is, err, scheduled, traditionally delivered (and scheduled) TV content, I think…?! I’m not sure if it’s still linear if you’ve timeshifted it or are watching it through iPlayer, though… err…? Web stuff, events, and so on are all classed as ‘multiplatform’.)

The session involved several time constrained (15 minute or so) sessions on set topics, in three groups of 8 so, with sharing back to the other groups after each session.

A particularly entertaining part of the session was a pop quiz/bar quiz on what the kids are into…(even with the BBC Controller of Knowledge on our table, we still didn’t win…!)

It struck me that the day beforwe the w/s I should have trawled the web to find out some of this stuf…

For example, the most popular channels are the ones that most people can get with the most popular soaps (and also follow the BARB reported trends), the most popular websites are guessable, (search, IM, social networking, a surprising one, online videos), big event shows are popular (as you can work out by looking back over BARB weekly viewing – the demographic probably skews things but just use a bit of nous when deciding whether it’s your dad or your daughter who’s likely to be watching…), most kids have a mobile phone, most of them send umpteen text messages a day, hardly any of them ever look at a newspaper.

Something that wasn’t mentioned was that “younger viewers are particularly fond of going online while watching TV – over 20% of 16-24 year olds said this was something they always did.” (70% of TV audience goes online while viewing).

(There’s some more old data/insights on the BBC commissioning site for this demographic too – BBC Commissioning (16-24 year olds, youth). Everything there is probably more true now…)

Not surprisingly, none of us knew what the favourite OU courses were among 18-24 year olds, though I think the VC mentioned what percentage of our student population as a whole fell into that category. I also realised that I wouldn’t know how to even find out which courses in our Faculty, say, were most popular in terms of: a) raw numbers; and b) percentage of the overall course demographic. Any OU readers know the answer, or how to find out the answer?

Something else I picked up – any TV programme that lasts an hour was not made for the audience’s benefit (or something like that ;-) Even getting people to hang around for half an hour is an achievement, apparently…;-)

One of the desired outcomes of the meeting was that we should have definite things to build on… One clear statement was that future co-pros should be commissioned as multi-platform plays. I’m hopefully going to be working on some Digital Planet co-pros for BBC World service, so it’ll be interesting how far we can push the web stuff under that banner on open2.net, especially as the World Service don’t really push web adjuncts to radio at all…

Another outcome was that we should use blogs and wikis to keep the conversation going… I have to admit, I sighed… the we need blogs’n’wikis and then it’ll be alright phrase always makes me sigh… I was going to suggest that if we followed each other on twitter it’d probably be more useful, but I guess I’d have needed someone like James Cridland in the room to back me up that such a service existed and might in fact be useful…;-)

Now, if someone had said “and the discussion tag we should use is…” I’d have probably fallen off my chair, but until that becomes the norm (and people know what it means in practical terms), using “blogs’n’wikis” is not going to be the answer… IMVHO, of course;-)

(That said, I can see that maybe people would want the conversation/related info kept to some private backchannel… But I reckon every layer of privacy makes it harder to access, and therefore harder to engage with? And we’d be looking for a private backchannel that could cross two institutional boundaries – OU and BBC… Sigh…)

PS having a quick scout around, the only blogs I’ve found so far from others who were at the event are these occasional affairs: Mark Brandon (open2.net), Richard Williams, BBC Internet blog, Dan Gluckman. I have no idea whether anyone there twitters, or whether there are any others still (actively) blogging…?

PPS in the bar the evening before the brainstorm, we had an interesting chat about the extent to which the iPlayer is, or could become, a device independent channel in its own right. This is a note to self to post more about that another day…

PPPS looking the the OU presence on youtube just now, it looks like they’re gearing up for the full OU on Youtube release…

Or as Ian Roddis, who looks after the OU web team, put it:

It seems that as an institution, we are starting to get a bit of momentum up… and then it’ll be hard to stop, like turning a supertanker round… Methinks we could be in for a fun year or two :-)

P…PS on the topic of Youtube, anyone know of OU courses other than T184 that are embedding 3rd party Youtube movies?


  1. Stephen Serjeant

    That’s a good summary of the meeting Tony. I was impressed at the goodwill in the meeting, and I was of course delighted that science broadcasting was getting this high-level interest. This is a very interesting time, with the new broadband channels and technologies changing the ways that both our organisations run.

    Twitter? I haven’t tried it but I’ll try most things at least once ;)

    I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss blogs. Blogging and comments on blogging work very well indeed in astronomy politics: see andyxl.wordpress.com. Mind you, us astronomers are more gossipy and garrulous than any knitting circle, so maybe that’s why it works…

    However we do it though, I’m certain that we could do with more contact and communication between our two organisations. Another one of the outcomes of the meeting was that programmes coming to pitch at the OU should first have at least one meeting between OU folk and the production team. This usually happens, but not always, so making this a policy would be very welcome.

    On our table the discussion took a slightly different turn. When asked to name successful science programmes, the BBC folk immediately piped up with ‘Brainiac’. But that’s asinine, I said. But it has great viewing figures, they said. So what did we mean by ‘successful’ science programmes? Why, viewing figures, of course, chimed the BBC folk.

    Hmm, well I guess that’s not so surprising on reflection. But I felt there’s a difference between a science programme, and a show that uses sciencey-sounding stuff as a vehicle for something else. There’s a role for Big Brother, Brainiac, Eastenders, Graham Norton, and all that stuff, and I’ll watch some of them sometimes, but let’s not call Brainiac a science programme. Science is curiosity-driven, but Brainiac isn’t.

    Here in a nutshell, I think we have the different perspectives of broadcasting folk and science folk. Is there any reason why high viewing figures need contradict highly curiosity-driven content? They needn’t, I think, but we each need to be always mindful of the other’s perspective.

    I cited the Naked Scientist, which has fabulous podcast download stats, and this seemed to meet general acceptance. I also cited with less convincingness In Our Time – perhaps not my brightest idea for a 16-24 year old audience. Ho hum. A nice idea though (not mine) is Dr Who, which generated bags of interest in volcanism (and the Cambridge Latin Project) in the Pompeii episode. Why not use people’s curiosity about science fiction? Why not have content ready (eg online) for the questions they ask related to this week’s sci-fi TV shows?

    We also saw some fairly horrifying statistics of the fractions of 16-24 year-olds who felt science had no relevance to them, and who would have skipped all science at school if they had been given the chance. One way of looking at these statistics is to argue that TV aimed at them should be spectacular and entertaining, or they won’t engage. Another take is to believe that they DO have innate intellectual curiosity about the world, but it hasn’t been engaged by their schools, nor by TV. Guess which of these came from the BBC folk, and which from the scientists!

    Another idea from the table with James, Janet, the VC and others: can we use the science broadcasting to help the *teachers*? A shocking 40% of schools don’t have a Physics teacher trained in Physics.

    To get to this meeting I had to fly down from Durham, where I was tutoring at the Physics residential summer school SXR207. I’m always amazed at the wide range of backgrounds and ages of people on our summer schools, who all share an intellectual curiosity, and a common self-motivation to find out. And every year I’m reminded again that the OU really IS a marvellous and life-changing institution. (Sorry, I get quite embarrassingly gushy on this topic.) So, it would probably seem perfectly obvious to any OU tutor or staff member that 16-24 year-olds would have innate intellectual curiosity to tap, and that this need isn’t being met. I felt that 16-24 year-olds are already heavily supplied with spectacular entertainment, so we should rely on the USP of science: curiosity. But the BBC folk certainly needed some convincing that this could generate viewing figures.

    As can be inferred from your blog article, several times during the meeting we were reminded of the importance of quantitative data to inform our decision making. Does anyone have any thoughts on how we might compile quantitative evidence for the market/audience for curiosity-driven broadcasting?

  2. Stephen Serjeant

    Oh, one other thing: the postcode of the building we met in was W12 8QT. Oh, nostalgia! If you wrote to Blue Peter or Why Don’t You or Swap Shop, it was always W12 8QT. It was like being presented with a plate of ravioli and chips, or a ZX81. Bliss!

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