A snapshot of age portrayal in the industry

Head of Diversity, BBC

When the BBC took over the chair of the Creative Diversity Network (CDN) in 2011 we made a firm commitment to investigate audiences' attitudes to Age in the media. Our partners in the CDN were enthusiastic and supportive of a cross-media approach and worked closely with us to ensure we delivered on our promise to research this area and share the results widely across the industry.

Today, the findings of 'Serving All Ages' have been published, and follow a public commitment by the CDN to do more to serve all audiences, and understand better attitudes towards portrayal of age in the media.

This kind of research offers insight into an area that really matter to the people who really matter to broadcasters - the audience. And, as the UK population ages - nearly half the British workforce will be aged 50 plus by 2030 - it's just as pertinent as ever.

What we found

The main finding showed that people are less concerned about age portrayal on radio and the internet than they are on television and whilst age was not immediately an issue of concern for most of the participants, once raised it did reveal areas of discussion and areas of concern. When discussing age portrayal on television, a number of areas were identified as opportunities to develop. These were:

  • Young people, aged 16-24, are most concerned about how they are portrayed. Many feel they are shown negatively as taking undue risks, being promiscuous, drunk, taking drugs and being very materialistic.
  • Concern at negative portrayal of young people was also shared by older audiences.
  • Younger people think this image can make older people frightened of them, and also make it more difficult to get on in life and start a career.
  • The apparent 'invisibility' of older people, and particularly middle aged (women 40-55) and older women (55 plus) was raised. It was felt there were just not enough of them on screen compared to older men.
  • For older people generally, there was a feeling, and largely an acceptance, that TV is a 'younger medium'.
  • Older people welcomed more visibility and expressed a desire for portrayal to move away from older people being the 'butt of a joke', infirm or grumpy. There was a desire be portrayed as 'young at heart' and open to new challenges.

What are the next steps?

We've shared the findings with some of the top people at the CDN, as well the BBC and the BBC Trust. In order for broadcasters to deliver high quality programming, a sophisticated understanding of what drives audience judgements is essential and this is what the findings of the CDN's Serving All Ages will provide broadcasters. Both audiences and experts told us they want the media they consume to be both entertaining and of high quality first and foremost. Ensuring accurate and authentic portrayal, including age, will help ensure this quality in output.


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