Public Broadcasters & The Younger Audience

2004-11-15
Teen Power is a youth-oriented web channel on RTHK website.
It was once said that "Still water runs no mills".

The logo of our latest Teen Power programme uses a drop of water to symbolize the purity and energy of youth. Water like youth is unpredictable and volatile in nature. Just like water our programmes are judged by their quality, and if we do not move with the times, we will be left by the wayside.

I'd like to begin by telling you what we do at RTHK.


RTHK in the New Media Environment

RTHK has just celebrated its 75th anniversary, and is one of Asia's oldest broadcasting institutions. We have moved from being a primitive radio station started by a small group of wireless enthusiasts to what we are now.

All in all, RTHK has 7 radio channels, television production facilities and a multi-media website. The platforms are there the question is how do you use them effectively to reach the target audience? As a public broadcaster, we have the unique opportunity to act as a balancing force in the media environment as we bear no allegiance to any commercial entities and can focus on serving the public.



Radio 2's Answer : Teen Power

Youngsters nowadays don't spend time waiting for news reports or their favorite songs or programmes to air on what can sometimes be called “Analogue Media” – meaning that it is simply streaming and there is no way to skip, reverse or immediately go to the content that is wanted. Instead, they would simply surf for what they want on the internet. The broadcaster's challenge is to reach out to this audience and get them hooked. Technology has changed the way lives are led, and people's attention span has gotten shorter.

Radio 2 is RTHK's answer to a dedicated youth channel. Programming is designed to suit young people's tastes, and to ensure that we succeed, we have adopted a well-proven strategy, i.e. we'll have the younger generation producing programmes for their peers.

In February this year RTHK launched Teen Power–a weekly programme on Radio 2, linked with a live web channel offering interactive original programming for the youth. It has become a platform owned by the young people. Surf through the Teen Power site and you will see Onliners Union a gathering ground for teenagers. There is also the Idol Corner where they could watch the latest MVs, or the Public Mood corner, where they can view a photo symbolizing the week's hot topics, and surfers are asked to submit a caption on it or post their views in the chatrooms.

Apart from music videos, and chatrooms, Teen Power also gives DJ-wannabes a chance to get into the industry. In fact in a few days, they'll be choosing the Teen Power Freshmen, so we'll have another lot of young DJs coming through. Teen Power has become a platform to enhance the connection and synergy between our regular presenters, emerging web-Js and reporters from campus radio and TV stations.

But even with all the effort, our sense is that we could barely keep in touch with our younger audience, and most probably just segments of that audience. The bad news is –no traditional media could claim an automatic grip on young people's attention.


Voice of Today's Youth

An important development in the past few years has been that young people in Hong Kong have become more vocal and their participation in current affairs is catching the attention of the media. The following is extracted from a recent article from Hong Kong's most influential English-language newspaper SCMP :-

“For many young people, July 1 last year marked the beginning of their new engagement with the society.

In the near term, they are likely to remain at the periphery of establishment politics and public debate. Their voices, however, will matter more and can no longer be ignored as Hong Kong and Beijing try to come to grips with new problems in the evolving circumstances under “one country, two systems”.”(Chris Yeung : Voice of new youth activism cannot be ignored)

To connect with youths who are keen to be exposed to current affairs, RTHK's Radio 2 started up the “Young Politicians” programme. It invited a group of youngsters for an interview and asked them about their political views and stances. 30 of them were picked and were asked to host a radio programme to debate on current affairs issues. Radio 2 became a platform for them to air their views. Meanwhile it also asked a former president of the University's Students Union to host a radio talkshow programme on weekends.


Choosing the Platform

Let's now turn to TV and start with the concept that young people is a new minority. We now realize that it is impossible to reach all the young people via a single strand of programming. We could only hope to keep in touch by putting forth ideas that would catch their imagination.

I'd like to introduce here two programmes which are a result of an “internal commissioning” exercise in RTHK last year. Under this scheme, frontline producers were encouraged to submit and work on creative and innovative programme ideas.

Teen Sky is a six-part television production using different mediums to represent the voices of the teenagers. These include their pursuit for love, ideals and the latest trends.

Another major venture is “Invincible-Dragonfly” which is a drama produced in kung fu style. It depicts the story of a confused youth who stumbles upon a chance to go to the Shaolin monastery to train. Apart from focusing on the art of kung fu, the drama also touches on life's philosophies. Combined with online chatrooms and interactive games, both have received rave reviews.

Another television project which we experimented on during the last years is Youth TV. YTV was first created to give youngsters a platform of their own to share “their” world with their peers. A group of youths are taught to produce their own videos and we provide them with the platform and time slot to broadcast their views. Although we're still quite a long way off from having a youth station completely run by young people, we're stepping in the right direction.

The importance of reaching out to the young audience is never lost on us. We need new blood in our overall audience profile. Those who are connected with us while young are more likely to remain our audience when the years pass by. We are a traditional media with many years of history – maybe too long a history – and there is an absolute necessity to keep the station young.


Plug & Play, Wired & Wireless

As a vital part of keeping young, a public broadcaster constantly has to embrace the latest technological wizardry.

Choice of technology platform is important. The younger audience is increasingly mobile and wireless connectivity is all the rage. Everything has to be instant and accessible. Our programmes also reflect that. Example : our Teen Power Web-Js along with two of our radio DJs encourage the audience to participate through instant phone messages (SMS) and computer messages such as ICQ and MSN.

Partnership with online companies such as e-Bay and the organizing of online youth charity auctions mean that the public broadcaster is making use of the channels of information, and entertainment used by the target audience on a daily basis.

Radio Television Hong Kong's website provides round-the-clock online webcasting of six radio channels as well as on-demand services of radio and television programmes. Keeping up with technology, RTHK On Internet has been adding new features to its website, including the launching of the PDA Service allowing users access to an array of multi-media information.

RTHK is continually exploring new opportunities to expand its reach. Yet another example of our latest effort, subscribers to Smartone, a local mobile operator, are now able to receive up-to-date and accurate news in Chinese and English on their mobile phones.


Conclusion

In order to make sure that the mature audience of the future is still watching and listening to RTHK, we must catch and maintain the interest of today's younger audience. We will only succeed if we are able to loosen the shackles of public broadcasting being associated with stuffy old-style programming.

At RTHK, our mission states that we are here to inform, educate and entertain our audiences, but I add that it is just as important to maintain good communication with our audiences. It is through this interaction and their injection of ideas that we stay young.

"Water should not be judged by its history, but by its quality"

(Dr Lucas Van Vuuren, National Institute of Water Research, South Africa)

The same applies to us.



(* Presented at the Public Broadcasters International 2004, 28-29 October 2004, Macau)
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