Last week in the UK a report from stockbroker Morgan Stanley by 15-year-old schoolboy Matthew Robson caused a sensation. The report, which made the front page of leading UK newspapers and featured in top level discussions at the annual Sun Valley Media Conference, raised serious questions about the outlook for newspapers, free-to-air television and other traditional media. Inspired by Robson's arguments, Business Spectator asked 15-year-old intern Scott Guthrie to create an Australian report...
I've heard a lot from older people about what my generation does with media – it tends to be a few basic concepts they've picked up, like 'social media' and 'mobile content'. But not that many people actually stop to ask you if their assumptions are right. So here's what we're really up to.
As Matthew Robson said last week, most teenagers nowadays do not listen actively to the radio. It has effectively become obsolete with the coming of the internet and the creation of sites such as last.fm and Myspace Music, which provide a practically on-demand music service with no uninteresting DJs chatting – and also no ads. The only place you will find a teenager listening to the radio would be in the car on the way to school in the morning. It is very rare to find a teenager who listens to the radio as a standalone activity.
The amount of television viewed varies greatly from person to person in terms of what interests them, what other entertainment sources they have access to. Also, as Robson pointed out, it depends a lot on what TV shows are currently in season. Many of the people I spoke to favour downloading TV shows or streaming them online rather than actually watching them live on the TV. This is due to the fact that it allows you to have a flexible timetable and you do not have to have your schedule governed by a particular show you would like to watch. Services such as TiVo and Foxtel IQ are also alternatives which allow a flexible timetable and an interface that's easier to use, but not all families have them.
Only a handful of my friends read newspapers, and practically all of this number would disappear if they didn’t have their parents to buy them. Breakfast is the one and only place for teenagers to read the paper, and this is simply because it is much less awkward than having a computer on the table surfing news sites while you eat your cereal. Although some teenagers do read newspapers, they would not pay for them with their own money – it's a novelty that is bought by their parents anyway, so they might as well read it. In my experience the Herald Sun is more popular to read due to its tabloid format and The Age is less popular because of its large size. With teenage boys it is rarely about the quality of the content but rather just having something to read with breakfast.
Recently, playing video games has become even more of a social activity. Games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band are popular as they are quick to learn, easy to play and are good in a party environment. The most popular console at the moment is the Nintendo Wii, due to its low price, the advertising of it as a ‘social’ console and the uncomplicated control methods, usually requiring little button pressing. Following the Wii is the Xbox 360 which is more expensive than the Wii and usually purchased by those who play games for longer periods and on their own more. By contrast, the Wii would be more commonly used for group gaming and for short periods of time. The rarest console that I have found my friends owning is the PS3 – this is due to the high price of the system which is an obvious drawback for those whose sole income is pocket money.
Internet and social media
The internet is one of the most used media sources in a teenager’s life and, as Robson said, Facebook is the most popular site, with most of the teenagers checking up at least once a day to see what their friends are doing. Other social networking sites such as Bebo, Hi5 and Friendster are virtually unheard of in Australia. Myspace is popular, but usually only from around the ages of 12-14, this is because it has a high level of customisation of profiles that Facebook doesn’t offer and also a music service. However, once teenagers grow out of this and just want a social networking site, Facebook proves to be a much better service. Twitter is hardly used at all by teenagers, and when it is, it is solely for the use of ‘stalking’ celebrities. The few friends of mine who have joined Twitter have quickly discovered, like Robson said, that no-one was reading their ‘tweets’ and they failed to see the point in it, due to the fact that Facebook already has a similar features ('status update’) and a larger proportion of their friends use it, they deserted Twitter and returned to their original set-up. Other popular sites include Youtube, for watching episodes of TV shows that have been missed, passing time looking at videos and listening to music. There's also Deviantart, the most popular site for teenage artists to submit their artworks and view others. It contains some very impressive artwork that appeals to teenagers much more than the art usually found in galleries. There's also sites like Stumbleupon, Digg and Reddit, that index interesting or new objects on the internet.
Robson’s statement about teenagers' use of directories also applies to Australia. The directories teenagers use are Google or the online White Pages. This is because they are much easier to use and search and also require much less effort than other services.
To reach teenagers with marketing is fairly simple – you just have to be funny. Ads that are funny are very soon recounted in the schoolyard and become widely known – examples are the Cadbury Drumming Gorilla advert or the ‘It’s a Big Ad’ Carlton Draught commercial. Pop-up advertising is the most ineffective advertising possible as it is just an annoyance and is generally ignored and exited without reading. Ads on TV and popular websites are most effective to reach our audience. Billboards can sometimes work, but we're usually only interested if it is an ad for an upcoming movie.
Music is an integral part of a teenager's life because, thanks to the invention of mp3 players, it can be listened to anytime, anyplace and therefore the amount of music an average teenager listens to is quite large. Paying for music is not something that happens often with teenagers as a large percentage of the teen population prefer to use file sharing sites to obtain singles for free. There are three reasons for this: the fact that it doesn’t cost a cent, the fact that it is free from usage restrictions (songs purchased from iTunes are restricted for use only on your own computer) and, for some, the fact that you can obtain a much higher quality track on file sharing sites.
The cinema is regarded as a place to gather rather than as a place to watch movies. Going to the theatre is usually just to meet friends, regardless of what is on. However, specific movies are usually targeted depending on the gender. Action movies for teenage boys, romances for teenage girls and comedies which appeal to both.
Every teenager I know owns a mobile phone and uses it mainly for texting, calling and accessing the internet. Credit-based plans are common but monthly payment plans are also common among teenagers. However, this is only when the parents are paying the bill – if a teenager is paying, they will usually be on a credit plan. The most coveted phone at the current time is the iPhone, due to the large amount of 'apps' available, its functionality and also its sleek design. The most common phones are Nokias and Sony Ericsson.