Ahead of IBC2023, Michael Burns chats with Fiona Campbell, BBC’s Controller Youth Audience, BBC iPlayer and BBC Three, about what formats win over both teens and under-35s as well as how to cross-pollinate with gaming and social media to grab attention in a distracting world.

Fiona Campbell must have one of the trickiest briefs in broadcasting. As the BBC’s Controller of Youth Audience, BBC iPlayer and BBC Three, she has to attract, entertain and retain the UK’s under-35 TV audience, launching shows in scripted and unscripted genres, as well as having a presence on social media and other platforms to drive their success.


Fiona Campbell, BBC

That’s quite an audience to reach, and even with that demographic, there are sub-groups like Gen Z and Generation Alpha. Indeed, the latter is the subject of an IBC2023 panel session Campbell is taking part in ‘Winning Over Gen Alpha: What broadcasters and brands need to action now’.

“We have just done a piece of work at the BBC looking at the 7- 24 age group in particular, and we can see that their media consumption patterns are such that they have significantly fewer hours available in their daily lives to dedicate to long-form video viewing,” said Campbell. “That’s because they’re spending so much time streaming music and gaming. There are many forms of gaming now, obviously, such as Epic Games [including Fortnite], Roblox, and VR experiences. For that age group, it allows them to convene with their mates, have communities, interact live, and create things live together. It’s a different kind of media experience than a long-form movie or TV experience.”

Campbell’s team is tackling this in part through partnerships with gaming firms. For example, Metavision and 3D Lab were brought in to help translate the BBC Three horror/comedy/drama Wreck from Euston Films into a game format.

“We created a parallel world of that drama in Fortnite, it was the first time the BBC had done that” she explained. “We created that game in partnership with the drama writer and the drama producers, who were very much involved in the design, what the game looked like.

But the game was designed by Fortnite creators, and it’s very much authentic to that platform. We weren’t endlessly trying to pull them out of the game. We were trying to experiment with the branding, but also have the experience of the game align with the experience of the drama.

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“The game is scary and communal enough for [the player] to want to go and experience the same fear within the drama,” she continued. “We also had gaming influencers play the game live on Twitch and then repurposed that content on lots of other social media platforms.”

The idea is to take valuable BBC content - mainly documentaries and drama - and express that in new forms on platforms where the target audience is spending hours of the day.

“The teen audience spends hours of the day just in Roblox itself,” said Campbell. “When you have a great piece of content, you do need to have awareness for it and your brand in those platforms, so that they realise you have something for them.”

Creator collabs

It’s not just a one-way street, as Campbell explained: “A lot of it is also about content extension, we talk with gaming partners about how we can develop things within these gaming platforms, using the gamers almost as collaborators to bring forward a storyline or a character and then build that out into the long-form visual programming that we do on our platform. And then you bring that content out to your social media platforms. There’s lots of cross-collaboration, some of which works and some of which doesn’t, obviously, but it’s developmental, rather than direct lift and shift.”

This relationship doesn’t just extend to games. At the Edinburgh TV Festival, Campbell announced a collaboration with TikTok called BBC Creator Lab to run next year.

“It’s a similar idea; we’re going to do workshops with 100 low to medium-sized TikTok creators across the UK and ask them for their ideas and creativity on shows and verticals or areas in the BBC that we want to creatively move,” she explained.

“It’s not about us telling them [what to do], it’s as much about their ideas coming to us, so it’s a cross-fertilisation. We’ll do that in the first year with TikTok, then in subsequent years, we’ll work with different platforms, such as YouTube or Instagram. We do find that people are interested in talking to us and working with us creatively as the BBC because they know it’s a bigger platform on which they can showcase what they can do.”

Social listening

Trends are incredibly dynamic among Gen Z, and we’ll probably see this in Generation Alpha too, so it must be difficult to avoid formats and shows becoming ‘old’ before they hit their TX date.

“At the BBC we have fantastic audience insight teams who regularly run social listening reports for us,” said Campbell, referring to the practice of monitoring social media channels for brand mentions. “When we are going to commission a new show, we will often run social listening to see where that idea or that editorial talent lies within the social listening landscape. We do that very frequently.

“For a returning format that’s coming back, those reports tend to throw up what the latest development is, the latest set of peaking influences in this area,” she continued. “Then we will adjust challenges or adjust the age appeal of certain challenges within that format. So it’s constantly listening to and analysing online chatter in quite a systematic manner.”

Campbell points out that a lot of people at IBC will be aware that the platforms run partner masterclasses where they make brands aware of the trends that they see coming the new tools that they’re releasing and where they think that’s going to take them.

“Our social media teams will be very plugged into that,” she added. “It’s just endless tweaking and listening.”

Talking of listening, it’s been reported that Gen Z has a shorter attention span than previous generations, so what happens if Generation Alpha follows the curve? Campbell doesn’t seem too perturbed.

“Video scrolling is massively on the rise, TikTok is massively on the rise, as are YouTube shorts,” she explained. “So I would say the bar for investing in an hour plus of your life into content is probably higher now. You have got to prove the value of your piece of content really well off-platform to get the audience to commit to watching an hour or many hours more of it.”

As an example, Campbell talks about a recent investigative doc about Andrew Tate.

“We did a lot of work on the press side and also in terms of news and social media,” she explained. “That has worked to swing an audience very quickly. It’s done well. And to what and the completion rates in that documentary are really good. So that just shows you when you hit the right subject, which is of value to that audience, that they really want to know about it and they can’t get in many places, they will come and spend an hour of their time with you to watch it. You’ll see that in some of the buzzier dramas like Euphoria as well, but the bar to get to that is high.”

Two examples of continuing retention with strong social media ties are RuPaul’s Drag Race UK and Glow Up. “Drag Race is a global phenomenon. They have their own dedicated social media channels so the fans are living it, helping us drive the conversation around it on a series-to-series basis. So it’s a whole world in itself,” observed Campbell.

“Glow Up is performing very well for us and it’s doing very well for us on TikTok as well. But that makeup tutorial format is very much from that platform world. It does just work, and it continues to work.”

Demands for on-demand

An experienced hand at the tiller, Campbell is likely to give short shrift to producers seeking a commission if they haven’t done their homework.

“Some people just tend to take the ideas they have and put them around everywhere, but most people who work with us know that we are super focused on the experience of that demographic and definitely representing it right across the UK,” she said.

“They know we are all about casting from Aberdeen to Kilkeel, from Bradford to Rhyll. So from that perspective, if somebody comes up with something I might say I don’t think that fits a 28-year-old’s experience at the moment in Bradford.

“We’re very focused on how we’re going to launch a show in an on-demand environment,” she continued. “That’s our first question when an idea comes in: is this something that has got enough USP, has enough clear water around it in the market, that we have the chance to be able to sell this off-platform and bring in those people to watch it on iPlayer? The Andrew Tate doc is a good example, but another is I Kissed a Boy, which is a gay dating show. That was a new format. We knew it was a highly distinctive format, potentially the first in the world for a male-gay dating show. And we had a strong star behind it in Dannii Minogue. We had an established Drag Race fan base, so we felt there were people who would see that as a credible piece of content from us who we could talk to and tell them about it. We did an exclusive video launch through the Grindr app, to get that cut-through, to make people aware that this is a new show, this is what it is, get out and watch it now.

“If we’re not thinking [around the idea] like that early enough, it’s probably a sign that it’s too derivative of other things out there. We’re just not going to be able to lift it because people aren’t going to want to spend an hour or more of their time trying it out when there’s so much else they can do.

“The quality of your off-platform awareness is key to launching the show, as well as the press obviously,” continued Campbell. “We saw real peaks in Google Search for I Kissed a Boy, and then for the launch of I Kissed A Girl, because we had all the great press pieces going, all the social media going, with Dannii Minogue and the contestants on their social media channels all driving the conversation. We also cross-promoted with the EastEnders team, going back in time to EastEnder’s first gay kiss on telly.”

International appeal

Campbell is looking forward to swapping notes at IBC2023 with colleagues in similar positions in PSBs from around the world.

“It will be really interesting just to discuss how we all think about our audiences, and for people to hear about how much we actually think about the audience above all,” she said. “We all talk about it in different ways; it’s all about that question of how you reach lower-income young people and what’s going to attract them to your service. I just think it will be really interesting in that wider European sphere to have those kinds of conversations together.

“I’m also looking forward to being inspired,” she added. “It’s always great when you get a bunch of creative people together in a space having unplanned random conversations. It does tend to rewire the brain, and great thoughts can change your thinking.”

Hear Campbell speak on the IBC2023 panel ‘Winning Over Gen Alpha: What broadcasters and brands need to action now’ on 15 Sep 2023 11:15 - 12:00 in the Forum at the RAI.