Television `losing young audience'

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The Independent Online
Britain's television executives are in danger of losing "screenagers" - young media-savvy viewers - to other forms of entertainment, according to an American analyst.

In an apocalyptic sermon tonight in the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland, Douglas Rushkoff will tell executives at Edinburgh's annual TV festival that the 16-24 age group could soon be a lost generation to them.

He will urge them to become more humble and attuned to the communications revolution. He believes that television producers must radically change the way they make programmes if they are to stop "screenagers" switching off or switching to more sophisticated and interactive forms of entertainment.

The 36-year-old New Yorker explained yesterday: "Programme makers are going to have to be a lot more humble about their programming or the kids will screen them out with their remote-control zapper, Sega joystick or computer mouse."

The programmes which will connect most with this audience, he argues, are those which acknowledge their media literacy. "Best TV is about TV," he says.

Another central theme of his lecture is that traditional narrative techniques no longer hold the same allure for this elusive young audience.

But BBC2 controller Mark Thompson rejects Mr Rushkoff's view that the end is nigh for narrative TV, pointing to the recent success of This Life as evidence that storytellers can still draw in young people.

"The idea that young people are turning away from narrative is bollocks really," he said. "The people hooked on this series were desperate to know whether Myles would get married.

"Hollywood movies are the most basic narrative art form in history and the people who flock to them these days are predominantly young."

Mr Rushkoff's retort: they don't go for the "formulaic" stories but for the special effects.