Young viewers switch from BBC to the internet

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The Independent Online

Younger viewers are abandoning television in favour of the internet and mobile phones, the BBC says.

In the corporation's annual report, published yesterday, the governors warned: "Younger viewers have been lost in disproportionately large numbers. When they switch from analogue to digital they show an increased tendency also to switch away from television." The director general, Mark Thompson, pledged to make the BBC more attractive to young viewers, in particular teenagers.

The report also showed that, for the second year running, Mr Thompson has agreed to waive his bonus. The BBC faces another 2,000 job cuts and the prospect of compulsory redundancies as part of his value-for-money programme. In 2005-06, Mr Thompson earned £609,000, less than the Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan.

His fellow executives, whose pay has risen by 30 per cent over the past two years, bringing them in line with the market average and reflecting a new 10 per cent cap on bonuses, faced criticism. The National Union of Journalists' broadcasting organiser, Paul McLaughlin, said: "Executives are bathing in Jacuzzis of cash at a time when staff are experiencing a major drought."

Around 1,200 support staff in finance, marketing and even the director general's office will lose their jobs over the next year, as well as some 800 journalists and programme-makers.

Mr Thompson and his management team have made a commitment to attract younger viewers with more popular drama and family entertainment shows, such as Doctor Who and Life On Mars. But earlier this year, an attempt to woo a youthful audience by hiring the Big Brother presenter Davina McCall to host a chat show failed. The governors said the BBC should continue to take such "creative risks" and should "maintain strong resolve when they do not succeed ... BBC1 was unsuccessful in its attempt to establish Davina McCall in an unfamiliar setting, but the attempt was worth making."

Mr Thompson pointed to BBC services which are performing well among youngsters, including Radio 1 and EastEnders, which he said was "very strong" after a difficult period. He said he had asked the Radio 1 controller, Andy Parfitt, to look at the portfolio the BBC is offering to teenagers.

BBC2 was also singled out for having "problems reaching younger and ethnic minority audiences". To tackle this, the channel announced more investment in new comedy and drama.

BBC1 and BBC2 experienced audience decline over the past 12 months, in the face of "sharply increased competition" from new digital channels. The number of people tuning in to BBC1 for at least 15 minutes a week fell by nearly 1 million to 44.5 million, or 79.7 per cent of all viewers. BBC2's "weekly reach" also dropped by a million to 33 million, 59.1 per cent of the total. The number watching the digital channels BBC3 and BBC4 rose, but not by enough to make up losses. The number using the BBC's website has risen by 3.1 million to 13.7 million a month.

The annual report

* YOUNGER VIEWERS: Switching off television in favour of other digital technologies.

* NEWS: Traditional news bulletins are in decline, but the number using the news website and watching News 24 has risen.

* REACH: BBC1's weekly reach, the number tuning in for at least 15 minutes, is down by nearly 1 million to 44.5 million.

* BBC2: Struggling in the face of new digital channels.

* EXECUTIVE PAY: Has risen 30 per cent in two years, to bring salaries in line with market and reflect a 10 per cent cap on bonuses - down from 30 per cent.

* DG's LEAD: Mark Thompson waived bonus entitlement for the second year running, as the BBC faces 2,000 more job cuts.

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