European public service broadcasters tap social media to bring news to younger audiences

News coverage by European public service broadcasters (PSBs) has grown dramatically over the last 25 years and attracted more viewers in total, but is failing to engage with people, especially women, in the 20 to 44 age group. However, broadcasters are working to reach this broad group through increased use of social media often delivered from integrated newsrooms. These findings were reported by the European Broadcast Union (EBU) at its sixth News Assembly in Portugal last week (Nov. 2) with publication of a 12-page executive summary of a report entitled: PSB TV News: Trends & Developments.

This study found that audiences as a whole were still becoming hungrier for up-to-date information, but that they were getting older, with the average European TV news watcher now being a 56-year-old, well-educated father of teenage children, living in an urban area.
Yet, total news coverage among PSBs has more than quadrupled since 1985, with round the clock news channels pioneered by CNN now commonplace alongside ever growing numbers of documentaries and factual programs. The study found that news programs attracted high viewing figures overall, increasing the urgency of reaching the 20 to 44 year old group, which includes many important decision makers and executives who should be engaged in current affairs.

However, the study highlighted growing efforts by PSBs to reach this target audience through social media and online channels, even if firm evidence of success has to yet to materialize. The survey found that 80 percent of PSBs were using their own websites to target younger audiences, and 80 percent were also using Facebook, 56 percent Twitter, 24 percent video sharing sites and 12 percent blogging sites. A fair proportion of PSBs were therefore addressing younger audiences via two or more non linear media.

The survey reported that 70 percent of the respondents make more than half of their TV news broadcasts available through at least one non-linear distribution channels, although this was most often via their own website. PSB news organizations were also making content available via catch-up and connected TV services, as well as on mobile platforms. Respectively, 84 percent and 69 percent of respondents to the EBU survey made news bulletins available via live-streaming and catch-up TV.

This growth in non-linear outlets for news is reflected in a trend towards setting internal guidelines for social media, in order to maintain brand identify and reporting standards. The EBU suggested that as in the case of the BBC’s official Twitter guidelines, these rules are generally based on “common sense and professional, journalistic standards, and ‘mindfulness’.”

The survey found that over a third of PSBs had set up a dedicated news channel sometime between 1986 and 2006. These channels tend to attract a younger audience than traditional bulletins within general channels, but still male dominated.

In terms of coverage, 87 percent of the PSB 24-hour news channels focus on national news coverage. The most popular second choice was “International news” (62 percent), and the third choice “Business news” (62 percent). Fourth and fifth choices were “soft stories,” weather and sports news.