Public Service Media: Audience Acceptance and Future Opportunities.

A cooperation of the Institute for Multimedia Production (IMP) at HTW Chur and the Seminar for Media Studies (SfM), University of Basel, Switzerland.

Audio-visual information and entertainment programs of publicly financed (and some private broadcasting services) are considered to be the heart of public service media in Switzerland and other countries. The statutory goal of public service media and to some extend local private stations is to facilitate an overall public debate, an informed society, cultural development and integration.

With online forms of media emerging, the usage pattern of especially younger target groups has changed dramatically and the financing of public service media is being questioned by the general public and politicians. If public service broadcasters and private stations with a performance mandate fail to adjust their range of programmes according to the needs of a younger audience, the generation of future viewers, this problem will increase.

This is the background of the project. A first goal is to analyse usage guidelines, preferences and attitudes of a younger target audience towards public service media in a time of an increasingly online, mobile and non-linear media world. Secondly, this project also analyses current and newly developed formats which could have the potential to be future program innovations that are aligned with the usage patterns of and accepted by a younger target audience.

Such innovative audio-visual formats often require different production processes which leads to the question what kinds of new organisational forms and work processes might be needed. Out of the new insights, recommendations for the transformation process of public service media and private media organisations with a public mandate will be given.

The realisation of this research project will happen in the following steps:

1.) Analysis of the media usage behaviour based on a secondary analysis of existing usage data and a representative quantitative survey on a) (audio-visual) media usage and b) the attitude towards public service broadcasters in the age group 14-35. This survey will connect usage modalities and ideas of personal and public value that have not been covered yet.

2.) Analysis of innovative audio-visual formats that are relevant to inform a democratic society (best-practice examples) and their strategies, forms of organisation and production processes of public as well as private broadcast companies in Switzerland and abroad (meaning the SRG, broadcast companies that are financed by licence fees and European public and private broadcast corporations).

3.) Conducting discussions and individual experimental surveys with groups of people and individuals aged 14-35 to validate the survey which will collect data on the attitude and preference of younger target groups towards public service media;

4.) On the basis of the collected data, suggestions for transforming public service media and private broadcast companies with a journalistic goal in the future will be developed. This includes a validation of these suggestions by experts from Switzerland and abroad.

5.) Theoretically sound continuation of the public debate on public service media.

Analysing the requirements of younger target audiences allows to investigate the mindset of that hard-to-get young generation which is so central to public service broadcast companies and private broadcast companies with public service offers on an empirical basis. This is why this project is vital and relevant to the current situation of public service broadcasters.

Combined with the analysis of audio-visual formats that are relevant to democracy and society, it can be shown what public service broadcasters lack compared to new online services such as YouTube, YouNow, rocketbeans.tv or private TV service providers and which new opportunities exist for such new forms to be integrated into the SRG SSR or other providers with an performance mandate. This would support the goal of maintaining public service broadcasters and their vital role for democratic societies. The vote on the abolishment of the Swiss broadcasting fee (“No-Billag” vote”) in early 2018 intensified the public and political debate on the future of public service media in Switzerland. While getting rid of the broadcasting fee was rejected with 71,6 % voting “no”, the debate on how to organise the financing of public service media is ongoing. This debate is not only a Swiss phenomenon, changing or even disestablishing public service media institutions is being discussed worldwide. This project makes a substantial contribution of information and clarification in this media policy debate.