Older viewers’ satisfaction with the BBC is showing “signs of waning” for the first time, a report by the TV watchdog has said.
The BBC’s younger viewers have been lured by streaming giants in recent years.
But Ofcom’s new report says that older audiences’ attitudes towards BBC programming could be shifting too.
Over-55s have been the BBC’s bread and butter audience, using and valuing it the most.
But the regulator’s annual report on the BBC states: “For the first time, satisfaction levels among audiences who typically use the BBC the most, and have been most satisfied with it, are beginning to show signs of waning.”
It said that the BBC’s “need to respond to audiences’ habits and changing markets is becoming more urgent.”
The report covers the period April 2019 to March 2020, before means-testing of the TV licence for over-75s began in August.
Vikki Cook, Ofcom director of broadcasting policy, told the PA news agency: “Older viewers (are) still likely to be more satisfied than the average UK audience with BBC services…
“This year, our research does indicate the first signs that that level of satisfaction is starting to decrease.
“So that means their audience numbers are also beginning to decline.”
Overall positive impressions of the BBC, among adults aged 55 plus, fell from 64% in 2017/18 to 62% in 2019/20.
Overall weekly reach of the BBC, with the same age group, dropped for the first time, from 96% to 93%.
Services such as Netflix, YouTube and Spotify “are continuing to attract audiences away from the BBC” and other public service broadcasters, the report said.
“While BBC radio and audio services continue to lose listeners, national commercial radio and specialist online services are seeing growth.”
Recently, Radio 2 presenter Graham Norton announced he would be joining Virgin Radio, following in the footsteps of Chris Evans.
The report says that “the BBC’s overall reach is still very high, with almost nine in 10 adults consuming its content on a weekly basis”.
But the pandemic “accelerated shifts” towards subscription video-on-demand, with around 12 million people taking up a new subscription during lockdown.
There was also an increase in older viewers using the services.
The report states: “Overall audiences to the BBC are in gradual decline. It reached 87% of adults in 2020 compared to 92% three years ago.
“If audiences do not consider the BBC a core part of their viewing, they may not see value in the licence fee…
“The BBC also needs to broaden its reach and appeal to a wider range of people, in particular audiences from minority ethnic backgrounds and those in lower socio-economic groups.”
The report praises the broadcaster for a high volume of news and current affairs and its learning and educational content.
And it says audience satisfaction generally continues to be relatively high.
But in the election period in November/December 2019, “attitudes towards BBC News among some audiences, in particular women, were lower in this period than in previous years”.
Ofcom said it expects to see the BBC “transitioning from being primarily a broadcaster on TV and radio channels to one that focuses on delivery through its digital on-demand services”.
The “number of people engaging with the BBC has continued to fall across nearly all BBC services, and at a faster rate among young people,” it says.
The overall audience to BBC One dropped by 5.4 percentage points since 2017, while its reach to 16-24-year-olds dropped by 9.4 percentage points.
The average daily time spent with the BBC – currently hitting the headlines over its Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, 25 years ago – dropped by a further 10 minutes in 2019 compared to 2018.
The report added that there are groups “who continue to be less satisfied with the BBC, particularly people in Scotland, those in lower socio-economic groups, and disabled people”.
The Government is preparing to publish its response to a consultation on decriminalisation of non-payment of the licence fee.