A piece in yesterday’s Telegraph:
The declaration on programmes aimed at over-50s contrasts starkly with annual plan to make entertainment that appeals to under-35s
The BBC will not make programmes aimed specifically at older viewers because their tastes are too varied, the corporation has said.
Instead, the over-50s are urged to enjoy shows made for a “general audience”.
The declaration contrasts starkly with the BBC’s recently published annual plan, which includes a mission to make “more young-appealing British drama and comedy, entertainment and events”.
It is also pouring an extra £40 million into the programme budget for BBC Three, which is about to be resurrected as a terrestrial channel with a schedule “specifically aimed at audiences aged 16-34”.
The BBC’s policy on over-50s emerged in a letter to a licence fee payer who wrote to Tim Davie, the director-general, saying that older people were poorly represented on screen.
Mr Davie passed the letter on to the Audience Services department, which said it was replying on behalf of BBC management.
The response said: “As you’ll appreciate, with an audience of many millions across the whole of the UK, we cannot possibly cater successfully for all individual tastes at all times, and enjoyment is a very personal matter.
“We find that tastes in older age groups vary just as much as those in any other age range – for example, some older viewers prefer quizzes, soaps and lighter programmes whilst others prefer more cultural or factual programmes.
“This being the case, there simply isn’t a typical programme or range of shows that would appeal specifically to older audiences, and that’s why our television channels and radio stations and the information on our website is for a general audience… we are a general broadcaster so by definition our approach has to be general and broad, so there needs to be a degree of compromise.”
Audience research and feedback suggested that audiences are “comfortable and happy” with this approach, it added.
In the initial letter, the viewer told Mr Davie that the BBC was taking its older viewers for granted, saying: “I’m 55, and often roll my eyes when I see the iPlayer and BBC Sounds homepages, focusing as they seem to do on encouraging younger consumers with shows aimed at them, and photos of twenty-somethings listening to programmes or podcasts.”
They noted: “If the Corporation is keen on fairness and inclusivity, perhaps representing those who are major consumers of television would be a good place to start.”
Julian Knight, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, criticised the BBC response.
“It seems like a bizarre and inadequate explanation. I can understand how they [the complainant] feel because there is definitely a feeling among many people that the BBC has left them behind a bit
“It isn’t just an age thing but a cultural thing. Parts of the country feel that – the north and the regions.
“I am encouraged that the new director general has some idea that this is a problem but, judging by the response, it looks like many others in the organisation have a long way to go.”
The letter emerged a day after Charlie Higson, the writer who co-starred in The Fast Show sketch programme in the 1990s, accused the corporation of stereotyping older viewers.
He told Radio Times: “The BBC is forever tying itself in knots about the ageing demographic of its viewers, and some younger executives seem to think that us ‘old’ people only want to watch gardening programmes, re-runs of All Creatures Great and Small and documentaries about Vera Lynn. Or tanks.”
It was announced last month that BBC Four, the BBC channel with the oldest viewership, is to become a repeats channel while money and resources are diverted to BBC Three.
A BBC spokesperson said: “Older people are extraordinarily well served by a BBC that offers something for everyone across TV, radio and online – our aim is to reach and reflect all audiences, and more than 90% of UK adults use the BBC each week.”
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