On Wednesday 12 June, Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall, Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury and Lord Gordon of Strathblane met Year-12 students (aged 16–17) from Stockport Grammar School to discuss their viewing habits and views on the future of public service broadcasting. A summary of the discussion at the meeting follows.
Students said that they watched content on screens of different sizes but there was a preference for watching sporting events and programmes watched with the family on large screens and using mobile phones and computer screens for social media and video-sharing.
In general, students did not watch programmes at their scheduled time of broadcast. They preferred not to “move their day around” to watch television. Often linear viewing, unlike VOD viewing, would be with their family. Students said that they would only turn on linear TV for a specific programme, such as live entertainment, a landmark drama series, news or sports. They saw such ‘event television’ as a key strength of the BBC. However, they felt that too many sports events were only available on subscription channels such as Sky Sports and that these were prohibitively expensive. One student suggested that the BBC should launch its own sports channel.
The students said that when they wanted to watch TV they would go first to video on demand services. Students’ first port of call to watch PSB programmes would be VOD services such as BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub, however they did not watch much on the BBC or ITV—with Love Island a notable exception. Some watched Channel 4 for the news, Gogglebox and First Dates. No one watched Channel 5.
The students discussed the value of the licence fee. It was noted that the it allowed the BBC to be impartial. Most valued it, arguing that it allowed them to develop their opinions and become better informed. One felt that people should have the option not to pay. Another felt that people should not be imprisoned for failing to pay it. It was suggested that general taxation could be used to fund the BBC.
Most went first to Netflix, Amazon Prime or Now TV. Students felt that SVODs offered a wider choice of programmes, as well as offering perceptive recommendations for programmes they would enjoy. Students enjoyed watching the same programmes as their peer group and exchanged recommendations. They liked that Netflix did not have adverts and some said that they would prefer to pay a subscription than watch adverts. The students resented watching adverts and their repetitiveness, sometimes even seeing the same advert being played twice in a row.
Students valued the broad range of content on Netflix and felt that it offered something for everyone, although they noted that this included BBC content. One student suggested that it would not be feasible to require an international company such as Netflix to produce UK content just for the UK as this might lead them to leave the country. The students thought that Netflix’s international content, including foreign language programming, was a strength, as was its portrayal of BAME and LGBT groups. By contrast, one student described the BBC and ITV as “quite white British”.
A number of students first subscribed to Netflix, or other SVODs, because of a programme only available on that service and maintained their subscription to watch other programmes. Netflix’s strength was seen to be drama and comedy, whereas its original factual content could be unreliable. Popular programmes on Amazon Prime included The Grand Tour and American Gods. One student noted, however, that his class was from a more affluent background than others, and that access to multiple SVOD services might not be typical.
Regarding video-sharing platforms, the students felt that the Government should ensure that companies address illegal content. At the same time, it was argued that people of non-mainstream views should be allowed to express themselves unless they act illegally.
Students also discussed different sources of news. They trusted news from public service broadcasters, with many going to BBC News first. They felt that the BBC was more objective and trustworthy, however one student felt that this was undermined by ‘analysis’ articles which featured more opinion. There was widespread awareness of the effect of echo-chambers online and students were particularly wary of Facebook as a news source. They seldom used Facebook, preferring Instagram, Snapchat and, to a lesser extent, Twitter. Students cited Facebook’s use of data as a major reason for not using it, as well as a generational divide between their cohort and those who were older.