ECMI Minorities Blog. Minority Language Media and TikTok: Are Broadcasters Showing They Are Still Relevant for Younger Audiences?
*** The blog posts are prepared by the authors in their personal capacity. The views expressed in the blog posts are the sole responsibility of the authors concerned and do not necessarily reflect the view of the European Centre for Minority Issues. ***
Author: Craig Willis | https://doi.org/10.53779/QLMM1477
It is little secret that younger audiences are moving away from traditional forms of media consumption; public broadcasters have long been facing declining viewing figures in terms of linear television – this is no different for minority language broadcasters. A report compiled for the Committee of Experts of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, highlighted the issue of younger audience’s diverging consumption habits and suggested that public broadcasters need to create “new services that meet the needs of younger and more digitally oriented groups”. Keeping up with such changes has long been stressed by scholar Tom Moring, initially writing about the need for institutional and genre completeness and later reiterating the need to create content which reaches the changing habits of younger audiences. Within these shifts, increased competition is a significant factor, but this was already the case in the late 1990s and into the 2000s with the emergence of satellite / cable companies offering much more variety of television. Rather, the latest wave of change in the past decade and enhanced by the Covid-19 pandemic, concerns a shift in format. One significant element of this is the competition from global media companies operating through streaming platforms, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus and HBO. Yet a second, lesser-discussed element concerns the increasing use of social media channels for audiovisual consumption, predominantly Instagram (through its Story and Reels functions) and more recently, TikTok. This is particularly the case for younger audiences, with recent Eurobarometer data pointing towards a stark generational divide in terms of platform choice – audiences below 25 years old are using Instagram, TikTok far more than Facebook or Twitter. Specifically in terms of news consumption, the latest Reuters Institute Digital News Report suggested that TikTok has emerged as a “significant new player in the news ecosystem”. Yet, such trends have yet to be analysed in scholarly work – given the strength of the generational-diverging media consumption habits, the question of how minority language broadcasters are using TikTok ought to be addressed as a priority for the field.
Within the field of minority language media (MLM), the first wave of literature from the early 1990s into the 2000s was focused on the growing number of (predominantly) public broadcasters offering full television and radio channels in a minority language – such as TV3 in Catalan, ETB1 in Basque, TVG in Galician, S4C in Welsh, Omrop Fryslan in Frisian, to name a few. The seminal volume edited by Cormack and Hourigan was a prominent example of this, outlining the purpose of MLM and analysing the initial and ongoing challenges to such outlets. Later, a second wave of literature in the late 2010s began to focus on the emergence of social media usage in minority languages, particularly Twitter and Facebook. However, this mostly focused on social media usage of individuals rather than institutions – the latter being a phenomenon which has only begun to occur in recent years, again propelled by the pandemic. Whilst some recent research has begun to reflect the divergence of social media platform choice mentioned above, for example TikTok use in minority languages such as Catalan and Welsh, their focus still concerns the use of individuals rather than institutions. As such, this post aims to address the intersection of the two changing factors – platform and user – by asking the question how do minority language broadcasters engage with TikTok.
TikTok began as an app typically known for individual users posting dance moves, launched to an international audience in 2017. Initially limited to just a few seconds, it has since expanded to allow up to ten minutes per post and operates in a predominately audiovisual video format – although overlay text is also common, as are short descriptions and hashtags. Already in 2019, the content was expanding beyond its initial dance and lip-sync dominance and by the time of the pandemic the conditions were in place for a boom of users to occur. Since then, the amount of news content has increased and the number of individuals using TikTok to obtain news has been ever-increasing. At differing paces, traditional news outlets began to join the trend, yet BBC News only launched its TikTok channel in March 2022. When it comes to minority language media outlets, the situation is mixed – some broadcasters have overarching TikTok channels in their brand name, some also have sub-branded channels for certain programmes, whilst others have not yet engaged with TikTok. The following paragraphs offer some examples of these.
One of the most prominent examples is Welsh language public broadcaster S4C, with its TikTok channel @s4c attracting ca. 8,900 followers and totalling ca. 131,000 likes. However, one of its youth-targeted programmes, Hansh, has its own TikTok channel, @hanshs4c, with ca. 14,700 followers and a total of ca. 367,000 likes – engagement numbers which are greatly exceeding its ‘parent’ account. Whilst both channels clip existing programming for their TikTok output, Hansh’s content is specifically designed for the 16-24-year old audience and thus possibly suits TikTok users better. Furthermore, Hansh does not mention S4C anywhere other than in its handle (@hanshs4c), preferring its own logo and just stating in its channel bio ‘Giving the young people of Wales a platform through comedy, impressive stories and creating good trouble’ [auto-translation from Welsh]. Not only does Hansh have regular presenters for this format, it also allows guest appearances from well-known Welsh-language influencers, for example Ellis Lloyd Jones.
Another insightful example is the Galician language public broadcaster, TVG. Although it does have a central ‘official’ TikTok channel which clips highlights of television broadcasts, its sub-branded accounts perform much better in terms of interaction numbers. The most popular of these is DigochoEu, a sub-brand created in 2020 aiming to target social media users by replicating popular trends on social media into a Galician language version. Its TikTok channel, @digochoEu has ca. 321,000 followers and ca. 8,300,000 likes (compared with ca. 35,000 followers and ca. 646,000 likes for the @tvggalica profile). DigochoEu’s profile does not contain any explicit mention of TVG, it is only visible in a URL contained in the profile description which links to a Twitch profile (/crtvg) and a watermark in each video which contains the company’s ‘G’. Part of DigochoEu’s growth has seen them target learners and non-speakers of Galician, particularly in Brazil where the variety of Portuguese is linguistically even closer to Galician than Portuguese in Portugal. Similarly, the brand ‘Virtudes’ which began as an individual influencer who was then signed by TVG, uses the handle @virtudestvg. This account has ca. 16,500 followers and ca. 322,000 likes and again only contains a simple TVG watermark rather than explicit links to the channel in its bio. Virtudes has much more of a pure comedic approach than DigochoEu but they are similar in their light-hearted attitude and style of appearing non-institutionalised.
Other examples of minority language broadcasters include the Catalan broadcaster, TV3, with its channel @tv3cat attracting ca. 51,000 followers and ca. 1,000,000 likes. Its content appears to be mostly just clips of existing programmes and is very ‘brand’ focused – this aspect is highlighted in the handle name, its main profile photo, the watermarks used and the hashtags identifying the programme. There are also examples of sub-branded accounts, such as its teen-focused X3 with the TikTok channel @somx3_ receiving ca. 14,800 followers and ca. 183,000 likes, or its music talent programme Eufòria which has its channel @euforiatv3 obtaining ca. 22,700 followers and ca. 676,000 likes. Interestingly, both of these TikTok accounts are undoubtedly TV3 branded and both also have lower engagement figures than their parent TV3 account.
Briefly, to outline two further examples, firstly the Frisian language broadcaster in the Netherlands, Omrop Fryslân, operates a very similar approach to TV3. Its channel @omropfryslan has a strong focus on its brand image with the logo and watermark very present to its ca. 17,000 followers and the ca. 391,000 likes it has amassed. Finally, BBC Alba, the Scottish Gaelic broadcaster does not yet have its own TikTok channel – rather BBC Scotland launched a channel last year, but does not appear to contain any BBC Alba content.
Whilst these examples are not exhaustive, they do offer an overview of varying approaches minority language broadcasters are taking towards TikTok. The very fact that such channels exist should be seen as a positive through Moring’s lens of functional completeness – the channels are beginning to go where the younger audiences are. Whether they are doing this with great enough focus probably varies per sphere. In the case of S4C, its main TikTok channel could be said to do a reasonable job in terms of its engagement numbers, but its programme Hansh is really exemplary. Indeed, it is interesting to note that TVG’s approach of TikTok channels which are not overly institutional appearing is having great success in terms of engagement. Whereas TV3 takes an unmistakably institutionally-branded approach for its sub-branded channels. They have lower engagement numbers than its main channel, but also comparatively when the size of the Catalan linguistic sphere is taken into account. It also seems that TVG’s DigochoEu and Virtudes are creating content specifically for TikTok / social media consumption, compared to some of the other channels which are clipping existing television content.
Clearly, further scrutiny is required on this topic, to systematically analyse the content, ascertaining whether there is consistency in terms of engagement numbers, to what extent the majority language is present in such posts and whether the channels are still growing or have reached a plateau. Moreover, there are of course many more minority language broadcasters to analyse, including also radio channels’ social media approaches. Another factor of relevance is the controversial nature of TikTok – it is evidently a political hot potato in terms of its geopolitical position as a Chinese-owned company also having great influence over the US and European markets. However, even if TikTok as a platform disappears, the short-form audiovisual content it produces is unlikely to – Instagram’s Story and Reels functions operate in a very similar way and Facebook is also moving in such a direction.
Thus, the challenge for minority language broadcasters is to provide relevant content for younger audiences, on the platforms they use. Social media channels like TikTok and Instagram form one element of this change but the aspect of competition from streaming platforms is also a huge challenge; further research is also necessary regarding how Netflix and similar platforms impact MLM as well as how ML broadcasters can collaborate with such actors to ensure ML content is present. Nonetheless, this post offers some very positive examples of how MLM are adapting to the challenge of TikTok, demonstrating that it is perhaps too soon to write-off public broadcasters’ role. The subsequent work for academia is to analyse how this fits with the goals of minority language maintenance / revitalisation.
 All TikTok figures for this account and subsequent ones in the text are correct at time of writing, late-May 2023.