New research from the British Film Institute (BFI) indicates that less than one quarter — just 24% — of youth between the ages of 4 and 18 believe they see young people that look like them on British television.
The study, led by Cardiff University and commissioned by the BFI (which administers the government-funded Young Audiences Content Fund) drew data from the BFI’s See Yourself on Screen Challenge, which invited young people aged 4-18 to create an idea for a TV show. The report looks at how young people who participated in the challenge feel about the TV they watch in the UK on free-to-access channels and platforms.
The research found that over the last two years, TV helped children and teens feel part of a community during a time when they felt isolated from friends, classmates and family, and has helped to spread positivity in their lives. However, only 35% of them feel like they see young people on TV that share similar interests or experiences with them, just 31% of children see other youth they think sound like them and only 24% of UK children see young people on TV that they believe look like them.
The study illustrates how that lack of representation is driving young audiences towards YouTube and social media, where they feel they can see people and find experiences that reflect their own — despite the fact that many also noted the detrimental effect some content on these platforms can have.
According to the research, British youth have a desire to see more diverse representation in their shows, with 57% of children in 2021 feeling that there are not enough people who look like them on TV, up from 54% in 2020. Additionally, many children with a disability, from ethnic minority backgrounds or from the LGBTQ+ community felt they were completely invisible from TV altogether.
The study’s findings show that TV is a medium that young audiences still value for the sense of shared experience and that younger children in particular see TV as a key part of their education, citing many public service broadcasting shows.
Launched as a three-year pilot by the UK government and administered by the BFI, the Young Audiences Content Fund was created to work with Public Service Broadcasters to address these issues. The full report will be published soon.