If the BBC Trust is sincere in trying to engage young audiences, they need to use more innovative audience research methods
“The digital natives are ruining Radio 1,” bemoans Dan Hancox. “If young Brits aren’t forming a relationship with the BBC the way every generation before them have, will they eventually ruin the entire BBC?”
Hancox, it would appear, has joined the league of pessimists lamenting, “the end of childhood, innocence, traditional values, and authority” (Livingstone, 2002 - PDF). Hancox draws upon the same old tired RAJAR data that reports the average Moyle’s listener is aged 33, well outside the targeted 15-29 year old demographic. However, let’s stop to reconsider RAJAR’s methods for data collection: a paper and, more recently, online radio listening diary. Given, as Hancox claims, the myriad of ways in which young people can curate their own entertainment experiences, I struggle to see the validity of using diary reporting methods to capture any data of significance.
A few years ago I did some ethnographic research for the Associated Press on news consumption. Participants were asked to keep diaries and I conducted one-day ethnographies, spending the time exploring the ways in which their lives intersected with media outputs. What surprised me most was the number of times that participants were ‘hit’ with information: morning breakfast, commute to work, logging in on the desktop, scanning papers and magazines in the newsagents, RSS feeds, emails, opening a browser, live scores, evening news, topical chat shows, the list was endless. No RAJAR diary reporting method could have caught all that.
So, here’s my problem. If the BBC Trust is genuinely trying to engage younger people, perhaps they ought to choose more innovative research methods for understanding how to do so. Quantitative data collection based on market research methods is hardly robust in the fast moving world of social media.
This summer I took my 16 year old nice to Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend. I myself could not understand why a bunch of 16 year olds would jump up and down to Moyles playing the theme song from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, in a sound clash against Tim Westwood. But there they were, showing him an awful lot of love. He has an ability to make everyone feel like they are in on the joke with him; the Toby Lerone gag comes to mind. Teenagers, like the rest of us, love feeling included. Moyles made us part of the collective.
A “flurry of hype and anxiety…a fear of not keeping up”, (Livingstone, 2002), has obfuscated the debate and has prevented us from asking the right questions. Who cares how old the average Moyles listener was. I’m willing to bet that most 16 year olds would vote him as their favourite Radio 1 DJ. Traditional research methods yield traditional responses. If the BBC is serious about innovation, they ought to do their homework.