Younger audiences – what matters to them might surprise you

Scott Spark, ABC Life Lead
By Scott Spark, ABC Life Lead | 12 August 2019

You might associate younger audiences with the likes of Buzzfeed, UNILAD and LADbible. After all, these publishers do what they do extremely well. In fact, they do what they do so well, they’ve become synonymous with almost any effort to reach and engage younger audiences. But, one year ago, when we set out to create ABC Life—a new online experience for younger audiences in Australia with public service at its heart—we took a different approach. 

We based our project on a foundation of audience research, including market analysis, contextual inquiries and a general population survey. We spent time with people who engage with the ABC less often, learning about the challenges they face and choices they make each day. This helped us better understand where the gaps exist for people and how we could meet their needs. And it reinforced the value of a reliable, independent service like the ABC.

The ABC has a track record of producing content that helps audiences stay on top of everyday things that matter to them. We’ve broadcast Gardening Australia on TV for 30 years and Life Matters on radio for almost as long. So, how might we provide a similar variety of stories from outside the news cycle for younger audiences online? That’s what ABC Life set out to achieve.

Since our launch in August 2018, ABC Life has successfully engaged new audiences both on-site and off-platform, helping us fulfil our Charter obligation to serve all Australians.

So, what have we learned about creating compelling content for younger audiences? Here are some trends we're noticing on what matters to them: 

1. Mental health – Almost half of all Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Onset of illness is often in teenage years, and 18-24 year-olds live with the greatest prevalence of mental health issues. The conversation about mental health is too important for us to take a siloed view and look at it in isolation. This is why, at ABC Life, we explore the ways that mental health intersects with the many others spheres of life: with sleep and travel, in our sex lives, sexuality and relationships, at school, work and at parties, and with our pets.

2. Consuming less – Life is often busy, demanding and full of complexities, so it’s no wonder that audiences show a desire for reducing consumption across the board. From buying fewer clothes, using social media lessgiving up booze to mindful eating habits, people are drawn to reducing, reusing and simplifying things. And perhaps, in the process, finding what matters to them and regaining a sense of control.

3. A new form of aspiration – More than self-improvement, people want to create a better world together. Any content proposition that ignores the importance of relatedness and connection in people’s lives will diminish its impact.

4. Desire for possibility – Audiences are drawn to considering how life could be different. Cultivating this sense of possibility and opportunity is powerful, whether it relates to a career change, personal transformation, taking a solo gap year or travelling the world as a family.

5. Preparing for life’s big decisions – Young adults are connected and conscientious, so it makes sense that they look for guidance online when facing major challenges and choices including career change and progression, marriage, milestone purchases and investments, childbirth and parenthood (or not having children). 

6. Being present in life's tipping points – They also value authentic conversations that address life’s toughest moments (e.g. helping a friend in an abusive relationship, social isolation, sexual harassment, supporting a dying parent or living with the death of a sibling).

7. System overload – Navigating life's maze of devices, bureaucracy and systems is a struggle. Few things run seamlessly and it’s a pain. Understanding this puts the trend of ‘adulting’ content in a different light. By recognising that systems are complex and at times counter-intuitive, we can get on with helping each other navigate them without it being a matter of addressing any generation’s shortcomings. 

8. Rejection of idealised portrayals of life – Glossy versions of reality are leaving audiences feeling empty and disconnected. They don't reflect their lives. That’s why any dose of real talk and depictions of relatable experiences are prized (from understanding the minimum amount of exercise you need to stay healthy, taking the job you don’t really want, talking about shame around money, or overcoming perfectionism).

9. Seeing life through different eyes – Young adults are curious and value other people’s stories and experiences. The world’s brilliantly diverse and they expect to see that in the stories we tell – this is something we strive to embody throughout ABC Life.

So, what’s all this tell us? And what are the implications for our newsrooms, marketing and advertising agencies, publishers and other media organisations? I believe it underscores the importance of a truly audience-centred approach to our work, recognising that people’s needs and interests are personal and contextual. This requires us to listen to and stay in touch with our audiences constantly and in a variety of ways. It requires us to take evidence-based, iterative approaches to content making; to challenge our assumptions; to gather and observe the right data and scrutinise it openly. I believe it also compels us to support each other in taking risks and trying new things. And it shows that collaboration is key to achieving the best results for audiences. And, to that end, combining various subject matter experts is crucial, because people’s lives and their decisions happen at the intersection of topics.

These are just some of the lessons from our first year. And it’s raised as many questions as answers that guide our work from here. No doubt, ABC Life will continue to evolve—I’m looking forward to every moment.

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