How teenagers consume media, apparently

There’s a bit of work-experience-as-research from Morgan Stanley doing the rounds this week. It’s called “‘How Teenagers Consume Media’ by Matthew Robson (Aged 15 yrs & 7 months)” and if you want to read it you can download the PDF from the FT or the the Evening Standard. (Incidentally, isn’t that weird? Where’s the download from Morgan Stanley themselves? I can’t find one.)

If you want to know what a teenager and his friends think about the media, ask him. Fair enough. It is an interesting read too, giving an honest no-holds barred account of Matthew’s perspective on everything from radio, TV, games, internet music, cinema and mobile phones. However, when I read an executive director at Morgan Stanley quoted in the Guardian as saying that “the note had generated five or six times more responses than the team’s usual research” and the Telegraph claiming that it has “become a sensation among City analysts and media executives desperate to discover the habits of younger generations”, I think it’s time to get some perspective about a piece of writing that is purely anecdotal. Suw Charman-Anderson is particularly eloquent on this:

“The City, and sections of the media, are getting a touch over-excited by a “research note” written for Morgan Stanley by Matthew Robson, a 15 year old on work experience … He has written a very well thought out piece which describes the media habits of him and his friends. … But one has to put this research note into context: This is one teen describing his experience. It is not a reliable description of all teens’ attitudes and behaviours, yet both Morgan Stanley and the media seem to be treating it as if Robson has Spoken The One Great Truth. … The important thing about businesses like Morgan Stanley, and the journalists who write about them, is that they are supposed to be able to tell the difference between data and generalisations. Yet they don’t seem able to sort the wheat from the chaff.”

And as Suw points out, it’s not as though there hasn’t been any actual research into teens behaviour before now. Suw’s post links to danah boyd a Social Media Researcher at Microsoft Research whose papers are well worth reading her for her well researched and respected insights into teen behavour.

There are plenty of other studies too. Nielsen’s report on ‘How Teens Use Media’ [PDF] from last month.

The notion that teens are too busy texting and Twittering to be
engaged with traditional media is exciting, but false

Teens are NOT abandoning TV for new media: In fact, they watch more TV than ever

Teens love the Internet…but spend far less time browsing than adults

It focuses on U.S. and while it covers much of the same ground it backs it all up with, you know, numbers.

Going back a bit further, Forrester conducted a survey of European teens for DIUS last year, and wrote it up in a report called ‘How are young people using social media‘.

Regarding Teens and twitter, of course some teens certainly do use Twitter (according to Sysomos recently, 31% of Twitter’s users self-disclosed age is between 15 and 19) but here’s Nielsen again:

“Twitterers are not primarily teens or college students as you might expect. In fact, in February the largest age group on Twitter was 35-49; with nearly 3 million unique visitors, comprising almost 42 percent of the site’s audience.”

Meanwhile, CNET reported last month on a survey from Pace University and the Participatory Media Network:

“While 99 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds have profiles on social networks, only 22 percent use Twitter, according to a new survey from Pace University and the Participatory Media Network. … 85 percent of them follow friends, 54 percent follow celebrities, 29 percent follow family members, and 29 percent follow companies”

Derek E Baird’s Barking Robot blog (‘musings on Generation Y educational and kids media, online community and youth culture’) is a great resource for people working in those fields. Recently, a post about teens and twitter gave a great summary of various studies and reports too.

If the personal touch appeals to you though, consider getting a few different viewpoints. Particularly interesting was the Guardian’s publishing of two more British teenagers responses yesterday:

Izzy Alderson Blench, aged 16 years, 11 months:

“Matthew claims that teenagers don’t have time for television or reading a newspaper. Maybe that is because he is too busy chatting to his friends on Xbox Live 360. Living in a rural area, Virgin Media is not available and the vast majority of teenagers I know use Sky. Instead of using BBC iPlayer or 4od, teenagers will record programmes on to their Sky+ box and watch later.”

The music program most popular with teenagers I know is Spotify. With last.fm (Matthew’s choice) it isn’t always possible to listen to exactly the song you want; with Spotify, it is.

teenagers DO read newspapers. Real ones, not just freesheets (you don’t get thelondonpaper in East Sussex, funnily enough). Even if it is just the weekend section or the magazine, the majority of teenagers will read an interview or feature in a newspaper regularly. Some even read the news.”

and Eloise Veljovic, 17 years, 1 month:

“As a teenager who lives in a small town in Kent, I feel some of his comments to be unfair on the general population

I believe that the radio culture is thriving among the younger generations. With popular presenters such as Chris Moyles and Fearne Cotton spilling over into other genres, teenagers are keen to keep up to date with their radio shows, even if only for the 10 minute car journey to school

As a teenage girl who cannot tell Ronaldo from Ronaldinho, I tend not to spend five hours a week watching football.

I also disagree with Robson’s take on the BBC iPlayer and his correlation to less television viewing time. Most teenagers live with the comfort and reassurance of Sky or Sky+ and will be informed whether their programme is about to begin or when it will next be on. Therefore, the use of services such as 4od or iPlayer are irrelevant and unnecessary.”

The full article is well worth a look and helps balance some of the London boy centric points.

Update: Kevin Anderson follows up with further discussion and more links to useful studies.

3 Comments

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  1. Good article.

    I was talking to a colleague recently, who told me that by far the majority of his internet traffic is the YouTube videos that his children (both aged around 10) watch. Apparently they aren’t interested in TV, and would much rather watch YouTube.

    I find that both exciting and worrying. Exciting because youtube changes massively opens up media content providing to a wider arrange of amateurs than before, and worrying because youtube stops you from uploading content longer than 10 minutes long. I don’t want to end up in a world where the maximum attention span is 10 minutes.

    Now, have you got any thoughts on how teenagers *should* or *will* consume media?

    Comment by kyb — July 15, 2009 #

  2. No, I don’t (yet?) have any thoughts about how teenagers will or should consume media. If the past and present is anything to go by, ‘however they want’, I’d expect.

    I’ve watched some young people watching music videos on YouTube, and I’d consider 3 minutes to already be well outside their attention span, let alone 10 minutes. :-)

    Comment by Roo — July 15, 2009 #

  3. It’s a great pity that youtube isn’t more like flickr. Flickr tends to feel like a community broadly supportive of peoples creativity. Youtube does not.

    Comment by kyb — July 16, 2009 #

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