Case Study. Discovering the Unrepresented Audience for the BBC

The revelations of the audience analysis for 12–16 year-olds and what that means for programmers

Photo by Echo Grid on Unsplash

Update: By popular demand, we've launched a free monthly digest on young audiences for VOD and TV professionals. We've analysed millions of data points and we don't mind sharing some of them - if this could help channels and commissioners to reach Gen Z, by understanding their needs, behavioural traits and intrinsic cultural values. 


Why Audience Analysis for VOD and OTT services

Netflix’s meteoric rise stirred a turmoil that is shaking the entertainment industry at the core. At a 2018 value of USD 36.64 billion, anticipated to expand at a CAGR of 19.6% from 2019 to 2025, the OTT race to win the direct-to-consumer relationship is no joking matter for traditional media conglomerates.

The U.S. alone has over 200 OTT providers, and increasingly fickle publics, as mentioned by Digiday analysis, are also only happy to pay for a limited number of services.

The biggest challenge with creating content for VOD/OTT platforms is in fact building new and loyal audiences.

Of all audiences, Gen Z is the fastest growing and the toughest to reach. Digital natives with hard topics in their hands, they are intelligent, involved and tremendously difficult to entertain. The key to engagement through an increasing number of screens that they interact with, often at the same time, is genuine representation.

A recent conference talk from Northforma highlighted Gen Z’s behavioural traits to shape a mind frame that successfully engages and maintains their attention. One key finding is that in order for OTT to be relevant to today’s growing audiences, they have to provide value, in the form of “best value for your money”, as well as content that speaks to them authentically.

Tough cookie for everyone, but especially for the BBC, pledging to serve all audiences aged 0 to 100 years old. One particular segment is now attracting their attention, the 12 to 16 bracket. They are the younger tier of Gen Z and allegedly the most unrepresented audience in media.

In our research, we discovered the real reasons why, and the discoveries have been eye-opening!

Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash


Want to get the article in your inbox? Download it here.

Not sure what is an audience analysis, and want to learn from scratch while being updated on the latest tech and methodologies? Check out this guide.

And here is a free monthly digest on young audiences for VOD and TV professionals, in case you want to be plugged in with Gen Z and learn about their needs, behavioural traits and intrinsic cultural values. 


Audience Analysis of the 12–16 Years Old Segment


An audience at a glance: the overarching insight

The biggest insight that surfaced from our audience analysis can be shrunk down to the following notion:

Teen online worlds are set on specific rules that dictate behaviours on social platforms. One thing is certain, their world is very structured but closed off from adults, making it extremely difficult to reach them and understand what really matters.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash


Who Am I? Teen identity trends in the Instagram era

One of the critical social needs during teenagehood is to identify with a community that has a specific set of rules.

Today, with the massive spread of digital devices and the internet, communities have moved online, becoming prominent reference points for teenagers.

Teens tend to follow two seemingly opposite directions when it comes to social behaviours: conform to the rules, and impose their views.

It might sound counterintuitive, but this is the reason behind the success of social apps such as Instagram among teenagers.

The social platforms come with

  1. a set of pre-established features,
  2. but they also let users shape their own rules once they subscribe.

Teens have, therefore, the chance of conforming to a “cool” community (in the case of Instagram, an application that is widely used by the most famous personalities all over the world) while establishing their own guidelines.

It’s not all.

The teens’ quest to define their online community identity goes side by side with the construction of their personal identity. In appearance-based communities such as the Instagram one, it’s easy to conform to aesthetic standards without actually showing who we really are.

And yet, teens seem to have discovered new ways of depicting the multi-faceted nature of personality through social media.

The most prominent example is the “Finstas/Rinstas” accounts, a trend that is spreading from teen communities to adult influencers.

Rinsta” means having a “pro” account with a studied and polished aesthetic that speaks about your public personality. We may call it the equivalent of ancient Greece’s persona, the mask that was used by the actors during staged plays to represent their characters and, at the same time, to make their voice louder thanks to the megaphone-like properties. In the same fashion, “Rinsta” accounts allow teens to build their character while spreading their voice to a vast community.

Finstas” are a little more paradoxical. They are the “fake” accounts where teens show their real (!) personality, where they can relax and just be themselves. They are often private or even secret, and access is restricted to closer friends.

This duality between “real” and “fake”, between private and public, sets up the quest for identity of teens in the Instagram age.

If you wish to read the full research, you can download it here.

Could this be one of the VODs biggest challenges, to inspire or generate a space for teens where they can express their identities and interact with one another?

If you’re trying to reach gen Z, it is indeed.

While talking to the BBC, we discovered why this doesn’t feel so intuitive when thinking of a “BBC teen space”, and it might be because of the broadcaster’s own identity. The BBC has always played the part of the reliable, secure, authoritative institution. How can this be translated into a space that is genuine, valuable for teenagers yet safe & dependable?

Our audience analysis has examined what they already do well, with the aim to identify growth opportunities to satisfy an essential need of this segment.

Even though the ages are so diametrically different from age 12 to age 16, they all share the massive milestone of GCSEs, which Trybes Agency and Northforma identified as the starting point for the BBC.


GCSE, Bitesizers and the opportunity for VODs

Bitesize is used by 77% of the target audience in the UK. Students feel Bitesize helps them with their school performance, with around 60% of GCSE users saying that it helped them to achieve better grades (source).

Given this context, from a sociological point of view, Bitesizers constitute an uncovered, massive wispy community in the target audience scenario.

Meanwhile, psychologically speaking, they gather in the need for tasks and exams’ preparation, but they especially — latently — share an extremely impacting experience at one time in their lives.

Then, how to reach them? Our audience analysis for this case showed that they meet in conversational territories such as:

  • private group chats in apps (Snapchat, Instagram, KIK, Whatsapp, Messenger),
  • topic threads on Twitter,
  • comments on YouTube videos

What are they up to? They talk about challenges, support each other, share ideas and feelings.

Why should anybody in the VOD industry care?

Nurturing what works can be the go-to step for any VOD able to attract large audiences with a specific interest in common.

Creating or enabling official communities, possibly organised around topics of interest to Gen Z, will open a door into the teenagers’ ecosystem. 

Where do we see this actually happening? Here we can observe our favourite Gen Z trait: the ability to create spaces for themselves that they don’t find elsewhere.

This came as a surprise for us. Observing the powerful way in which Gen Z can exchange and create information in order to experience concrete value, revealed how profoundly the digital revolution has shaped the way we grow and learn. It puts the power back into their hands, it enables them to create solutions out of generational frustrations that have been happening for a long time.

Millions of students in the UK gather around GCSE conversations and user-generated content across the whole digital ecosystem searching for support, empathy, interaction with others and actionable solutions (beyond the official education channels providing notions and rules).

The “Study with me” phenomenon is the best example of a user-generated practice that completes the value of official tools — in the UK, school tools and Bitesize — with solutions for the target audience’s most important needs.

If you’re curious about the “GCSE study with me” phenomenon and the GCSE audience analysis (what they love, what they talk about, who or what influences them, and what’s their UX), make sure to download the full research here.

But first, let us just briefly mention the most crucial part of it here: the WHY.

Teens facing the GCSE experience are under pressure because of the imminent judgement on their performance. Students in this age group may often identify the evaluation of their academic achievement with a judgement on their persona, thus feeling anxious and willing to appear prepared.

The fear of judgement may lead to a contradictory situation: students don’t want to show their weaknesses to peers but, at the same time, they need someone to relate to. Preparing for exams in solitude excludes distractions, but it also excludes dialogue: if you have some doubts, there’s no one you can ask for help.

From this viewpoint, “Study with me” becomes a tool to have both emotional and factual support: students are not exposed to others’ judgement, but they also don’t feel alone, and they have access to actionable guidelines to study efficiently.

This helped us track the dynamics behind the rise of teen influencers.



With the massification of technology and social apps, the term “influencers” has widened its boundaries. “Those who influence” are not just celebrities and important personalities anymore: they can be literally anyone, and they can belong to any age range, as long as they fit their audiences’ interests, needs, and aspirations.

As one of the latest additions to this world, Teen-influencers reflect the need of younger people to have points of reference they can relate to on a horizontal level instead of a vertical one: they’re peers, not mentors or figures to be watched from below.

So, after running a content analysis with our hybrid intelligence team, we learnt things like:

  • Teen-influencers cater from adult influencers’ motifs, but they end up creating new styles and narratives
  • They use a mix of cured expressions/YouTuber lingo + teen exuberance
  • They take inspiration from adult expressions by choosing those that they think will make them sound cool (e.g.: You’ve got to stay hydrated)
  • They mock themselves mocking adults

We especially focused on Youtube Star Ellie Louise, and tried to reverse engineer her most popular content, Back to School Morning Routine & What’s in my Backpack!

So, why is this type of content so popular among the target audience?

  • Teens tend to have a very polarized experience of reality: black/white, on/off. As a corollary of this way of thinking, they often believe there is a “right way” to do things, even for simple things such as getting their bag ready for school.
  • Routine’s tutorials made by teens mix guidelines, naivety, and influencers’ expressions. They convey simple subjects that all teens can relate to and might have had (or still have) issues with.
  • Most importantly, they go straight to the point, so that it doesn’t seem like they are “teaching” anything. Teens don’t want to be “taught”, they want to conform/not conform to behaviours/attitudes.


Why are all these hints on teens this important for the VODs and broadcasters?? Why is it so vital to analyse the behaviours and understand the intrinsic cultural values of a segment that is so rich yet so quick to change?

We believe the challenge is worth the result, as engaging these ages successfully will result in long-term audiences loyal to a channel for years to come.

But there’s more than the commercial value of these young audiences’ attention.

Think about teenage years.

Photo by Alex Michaelsen on Unsplash


This is the time when identities start shaping for the long term. Stories shape our views of the world, and characters can mirror the turmoil that happens within us, especially at such a radical age.

Representation is vital for a growing population that is soon to make defining choices in career, society and consumerism. When does representation work well, and when does it do harm?

In our conversation with the BBC, we took the chance to answer this question by analysing the case of a TV phenomenon for teen communities worldwide.

It raised more questions than it gave answers, but it opened a radical opportunity for TV programmers to take part in the representation game and win over audiences that are craving for meaningful content to be brought to life.


Implications of a Success Story: 13 Reasons Why

Based on the best-selling books by Jay Asher, the Netflix Original Series 13 Reasons Why averaged 6.08 million viewers in the U.S. in the first three days of season 2 premiere episode (source: Nielsen; not confirmed by Netflix).

On Twitter, it was the most mentioned show’s title for 2017, with 3,585,110 tweets (the second most-tweeted show, Chasing Cameron, had less than half as many mentions with 1,326,010).

The series skews heavily younger, with 75% of its average minute audience under the age of 34.


Audience Analysis: response

The loved-hated series, coming out with the third season later in 2019, has divided the critics and the audiences into 2 main segments:

  1. The scared of copycat behaviour — the ones that criticize the controversial main themes (suicide, school shootings, addiction and sexual assault) and the series’ narrative as being dangerous for teenagers to watch

  2. The speak the truth fans — the ones that feel the need of showing uncomfortable content and “speak the truth” about teenagers these days, as bad and scary as it sounds.


Audience Analysis: Social and cultural impact

Both positions, lovers and skeptics, have in their ranks adults watching the show (content critics, storytellers, parents, teachers, psychologists…) and the young audiences themselves, creating a semantic bridge between two worlds respectively in search for representation (the young audiences) and deep understanding (the parents/experts side).

The conversation around teenagers’ issues and lives had spread across social channels and the whole online ecosystem creating the biggest cultural impact in the coming-of-age series history.

(A campaign at the Rowan University on-campus Counseling and Psychological Services mocked the show 13 Reasons Why with this sign saying 1300 reasons why not and sticky notes from 1300 students offering expressions of hope and reasons why not to commit suicide)


On the other hand, research revealed that the release of 13 Reasons Why corresponded to between 900,000 and 1,500,000 more suicide-related searches in the United States, including:

  1. a 26% increase in searches for “how to commit suicide,”
  2. an 18% increase for “commit suicide,”
  3. and a 9% increase for “how to kill yourself.”

Additionally, a 2019 study published by the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry showed that overall suicide rate among 10- to 17-year-olds increased significantly in the month immediately following the release of the series.


The challenge for the BBC (and for any VOD that actually cares ;)

In this context, the stories’ producers and channels face a huge challenge: representing teenager audiences in their own narrative and themes while avoiding a commercially-driven dangerous social impact.

Furthermore, as mentioned previously, there is a strong need in the market for the creation of safe zones where young audiences can be listened to without fearing judgement (both from the peers and the families).

Will the BBC be the first channel worldwide accomplishing this arduous task?

We believe that it is possible. Channels have to turn inwards and recognise their role, to understand what value they carry in the eyes of the most elusive audience yet.

The challenge is arduous, but the answer is surprisingly simple. Hints of how teens want to be entertained are all out there, ready for attentive eyes to be picked up and mirrored back through authenticity. This will come from understanding truthfully what is it that you, as a channel or broadcaster, really stand for, and make sure that there are plenty of people out there that recognise that.

Because the ones who recognise it, will listen. And subscribe.


Northforma and Trybes Agency are working together to represent Gen Z through the creation of new programs and content crafted on topics relevant to their needs and intrinsic cultural values.

We chose Gen Z to focus our work through these thrilling times in digital TV, and we are always happy to share our ideas and insights on what is, admittedly, the most exciting generation yet. Here is a free monthly digest on young audiences for VOD and TV professionals, to start with. 

If you want to save a copy of this article, make sure you download it here.

If you want to learn more about audience analysis, check out this guide.