Engaging the Next Generation of Public Media Audiences

By With For Youth Inspiring Next Gen Public Media Audiences

Public media is at a critical junction. Rapidly evolving technology ecosystems mean that new platforms, modes of engagement, and forms of content are driving every part of the media sector to innovate. At the same time, tweens and teens who are growing up in this new world are approaching media differently — they aren’t just consuming media, they’re engaging with it creatively, interactively, and socially too. In the current environment, tweens and teens rarely have trustworthy, high-quality options available to them, and yet there is a disconnect between Gen Z and public media. 

We believe that now is the time to re-establish how public media meets the needs of young people. We believe that we can do this — together.

Today the Cooney Center is announcing an ambitious new phase of By/With/For Youth: Inspiring Next Gen Public Media Audiences, an effort to support public media stations around the country as they work to engage tweens and teens. In partnership with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the project aims to help stations to support the creation of meaningful content by, with, and for young people, and to help public media meet the unique educational, community, and civic needs of today’s youth.

Building on research

In 2020, the Cooney Center launched the first phase of Next Gen Public Media with a focus on understanding how today’s tweens and teens engage with media. Over the course of a year and a half, Cooney Center researchers conducted a broad analysis of the media landscape and conducted a series of in-depth focus groups with diverse youth across the country in order to better understand the ways youth discover and use media in their daily lives. The findings of this study are the focus of The Missing Middle: Reimagining a Future for Tweens, Teens, and Public Media.

As we launch this new phase of Next Gen Public Media, we are poised to build on this research and collaborate with public media professionals across the country to advance our common goals. Together we will troubleshoot challenges, celebrate successes, and develop new ways to reach, and involve, tween and teen audiences. 

In the shared work ahead, we will pursue the following Next Gen Public Media priorities:

  • “Seat at the Table” – Engaging Youth as Co-Creators of Public Media
  • “Platforming Youth” – Uplifting Youth Voice Through Public Media
  • “Media Fluency” – Supporting Youth to Navigate a Fragmented Media Landscape
  • “Reinventing the PSA” – Creating Youth Media that Addresses Developmental Needs and Desires
  • “Embracing the Digital” – Engaging with Present-day Youth Media Platforms and Practices
  • “Centering Inequities” – Centering Inequities in Youth Media Work

If these priorities are important to you, we hope you’ll join us.

How to get involved

Reaching tween and teen audiences is complex. In this new phase of work, we’re committed to supporting the public media field by conducting more research, hosting opportunities to collaborate with peers, and launching a new Accelerator program to spur innovation. To get involved, you can:

  • Get updates. Sign up to receive updates about our research, pioneers in the field, and upcoming events and opportunities.
  • Read the research. Check out the reports that ground our vision for Next Gen Public Media and learn about where our research is headed.
  • Join the community. Attend webinars and online meet-ups with peers who lead this work around the country.
  • Apply to the Accelerator. Learn about the Next Gen Public Media Accelerator and apply to our RFP.

Introducing the Next Gen Public Media Accelerator

A central component of this new phase is the Next Gen Public Media Accelerator, a grant program that will provide funding to at least 10 public media stations to prototype and pilot local projects focused on tween- and teen-focused initiatives. Accepted proposals will receive $15,000 and join a six-month Accelerator program from February to August 2022.

To support the development of robust proposals from diverse applicants, we will be hosting a set of optional events this month to share more information, brainstorm ideas, and align emerging proposals with Next Gen Public Media priorities. Learn more and register for these support opportunities, or jump straight to the request for proposals.

Embracing the moment, together

Our work at the Cooney Center has always focused on how a changing media landscape for young people can be embraced—in all its challenges and possibilities—by thoughtful groups of professionals, scholars, and leaders. As we continue to explore these questions in new ways, and reconnect to Sesame Street’s roots in public media, we hope you’ll join us in the work that lies ahead.

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The Missing Middle: Reimagining a Future for Tweens, Teens, and Public Media