First – lil disclaimer… this is by no means either a scientific or mathematical study.
What follows below is an informal conversation (I would love to attend a formal conversation with them!) between me and 3 members of the new generation of consumers of entertainment content – a 13 year old European girl, a 14 year old Chinese girl and a 15 year old American boy – Teenagers/Kids/Tweens.
I’ve been reading up lately on the new generational consumption of common media (the paper Generation M2, Kids’ TV Trends and a few others) and for a couple of weeks, before I started talking to the only people I know that are inside the age bracket tested in the papers (between 8 and 18) who were willing to answer a few questions, have been fascinated by how much different the new generation of kids around the world is – from my generation – in regards to the centrality of the TV as the main medium of content consumption.
I come from a generation that the first thing they’d do before brushing their teeth, was to go turn on the TV and either watch cartoons, or the VHS tapes of previously taped shows (pirate tapes were a dime a dozen in my “entertainment cupboard”), then, when we’d come back from school and the half-dozen activities we’d do afterwards, we’d turn back the TV while doing homework and till our eyes almost bled from exhaustion. I admit… it wasn’t healthy.
I fried a lot (LOT) of neurons paying attention to all the silly details bombarded at me by European/American TV channels (MTV was a favorite at the time – Cartoon Network at a later stage – Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken, Samurai Jack, etc) and when I became a teenager, I’d stay up with my parents, first watching the news bulletins (local and international… I know… geek…) and then watching a few TV series before going to bed (ER, X-Files, Dawson’s Creek – Yes!… Kill me… etc). Bear in mind, at the time, there was no internet and if I wanted to know about the new hip shows, schedules, etc, I’d have to scour through newspapers, magazines and most of the times, be submitted to the taste of the channel content developers/programmers… so… a lot of bad content was consumed… (un)fortunately.
This remembrance of my past habits is brought to light, mostly to showcase the contrast between what some of us might have done, and what “the kids are doing today” (terrible phrase to use but it’s the only way I see how to describe it…).
I was pushed content. When I looked for it, it was complicated to locate/see. I taped what I liked, and it was an ordeal to do so, as well as replaying what I liked (also… illegal). I was bombarded by advertisements and by “Fo-advertisements” (very popular in the 90’s in Asia) all my life. All my life that is, till I went to college, when the “internet revolution happened” (it happened a few years before I went, but I delay it here for “dramatic effect”). This is where a shift in my consumption happened. But today… I live with a mix of the 2. Half of my content is gauged through TV (slowly becoming 1/3), the other half, through the internet and surrounding media (mobile, ipTV, etc).
So… back to the kids…
First difference… Main mode of consumption – all 3. Yes, you read it right. All 3 of the kids tell me that their main mode of content consumption is, either, their Mobile Phone, their home-computer/iPad or an internet connected screen (a Google enabled Samsung Smart TV in this case). This isn’t news. For anyone that has paid any attention to their cities, they see how kids walk around the street… either gazing at their mobile phones, or at someone else’s (something that also fascinates me as my first phone was a 3210 Nokia that the best I could do was play Snake or program music through keytones…).
What do they watch – Internet content channels (subscribed channels, mostly due to popularity and of amount of content) like RayWilliamJohnson, JennaMarbles, Smosh, freddiew, VEVO, Michelle Phan, etc; anime/cartoons on either Youtube, or Free Series Sites (mostly illegal).
Here, once again, was something that fascinated me… I divided my childhood between European/American cartoons and Japanese Anime… but my choice was never close to the enormity of content and Anime that now exists… I was limited to the few series that had VHS, VCD, DVD content – I’d, most of the time, spend most of my allowance to buy a VHS/DVD that would last me 2/3 months of views and reviews – and the ones that were shown at the wee hours of the day (Dragon Balls, for example, was only shown after 24.00 due to violent content), these kids watch a series on youtube (several Anime series exist on the platform, most content uploaders subverting the copyright issues by either cutting the episodes into small pieces, or distorting mildly the sound of the episodes).
They also consume TV shows like How I Met your Mother, Masterchef Kids, iCarly, etc, but they do it in a non-sequential way, most of the time even consuming some episodes online, then on TV, then on mobile, then on DVD/Bluray (this system completely bogs my mind… I like either to watch a series in bulk – OCD sometimes kicks in on this – or keep the expectation of a new episode week-by-week), then back on TV. This non-fidelity to the story structured system of TV
shows is what amazes me. A show is, for them, meant to entertain momentarily for the minutes they watch it and that’s it (mostly). That’s why shows that are almost not entirely sequential, even though they may not have the necessary/desired Nielsen ratings, keep coming to the air, yoy. They may not be important on a weekly basis, but are consumed entirely nonetheless.
How do they know what to watch – no… advertising doesn’t work they say… of course to this I cry bullshit, as most of the shows they consume are strategically created so advertisements blend seamlessly between weekly/non-sequential shows and the viewer’s daily lives/routines. They may not press the banner ads in the channels, but they see the playlist content available in them. They don’t download apps by what they need (see/hear in the ads) but by their popularity on the app store (Android or Apple). They watch a show, tell their friends, and make it a point to see all of the episodes (in sequence or not), just so they can “say they’ve seen them”, or at least “talk about certain aspects of the shows”. This to me looks (feels) like a self-centric (in a non-hypocritical way) and communal content consumption habit, which becomes almost incongruous, but ends up being extremely efficient at increasing the amount of information (entertainment, since news is something that “they watch when their next to their parents”), that these kids are consuming.
I am certain they, have watched a lot more content, varied or similar (here the idea of looking for content instead of watching what is fed to you, elevates the amount of differentiated content that they consume as its showcased by one example from the Chinese girl where she likes to hear, mostly Pop music from the US, but then also hears Metal from the Anime shows and Classical Rock from the TV shows), than their previous generations, but a problem arises… to me at least… they only consume what they want. When they want. How they want. There is no curator for what they consume. For 2 of them, there isn’t even a censor (the 3rd has a family filter – something I think may not be that difficult to circumvent). This is worrying. And appealing at the same time.
It worries me that the intelligence of consumption may be warped by the quality of the content. But then that has always happened… It appeals to me because then it means that, at an early stage, consumers are becoming differentiated in the content they consume. Little niches are being created. Little “villages of consumption”. This is the bread and butter of Transmedia.
As Transmedia developers we need an audience that knows exactly the type of content they want to consume. Sometimes by the appeal that we as marketers may have over them, but…. most of the times… by the quality, theme and appeal of the content. In whatever media it is transmitted/transformed for their consumption.
Last but not least… How do we talk to them – age is a pretty big factor in this point. Although most children would like to think that they are grown up, or that adults should talk to them like they are “little adults”, a bit of care needs to come into play.
The 3 of the kids I talked to had all seen pornographic content (not news… as the age of consumption of pornography has now “stabilized” at 11 years), and they all see R-rated content regularly (either by lack of attention of their parents over the content they consume on their personal devices, or by “permission” of their parents). As I was talking to them, I was constantly mesmerized by their “jadedness” over some of the films I mentioned to them (Final Destination, REC, Hannibal, SAW, etc), all seemingly “violent but not traumatizing” – I find it funny how they themselves evaluate how they are supposedly affected by the content. For games, it wasn’t much different – most had played Dead Space, Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, God of War, etc. All pretty violent (content restricted), even for my age, but they simply don’t care. Oh… and most (all I’d think), don’t pay for their content. If they can’t find it for free… they go somewhere else… I digress…
To find a point of common knowledge was also complicated. They don’t see films from before the 21st century. With TV series it’s the same. On the games the only thing that matters is quality of graphics and if they are entertaining (all had Angry Birds on their phones). They like short content, fast and most of the times, “shiny” stuff. Once again, this isn’t news to anyone who is working with Transmedia or watching where most of the Transmedia content is going towards (at least in Asia). What is interesting though, is that they consume all types of media. Sometimes from similar or even the same franchises, but they aren’t media biased. Again… not news.
Finally, they all wanted content. All kinds, any kind, just as long as they find it “fun”/”worthwile”. I asked if, with the immensity of stuff that exists online, they didn’t find enough to consume. 2 out of 3 said, there isn’t enough of what they like, so sometimes they become either bored, or they look for different content (this was mostly common for games they’ve finished, TV shows that aren’t older than 2 years and internet channels that have content updated in periods longer than a week). This is enlightening to me.
Maybe we as Transmedia developers are too jaded by the numbers (a strange moment I had was when I asked them if they “watched TV” and they all said “Yes, constantly” and I asked what channel – most, didn’t have one. The do watch TV… but its the content from TV they watch… either on their phones, iPads or PC’s… not the physical TV as most of us do).
We see kids/teens as rapid content munchers, with no diversity of consumption, but the ones I talked to were finding ways of satisfying their appetite for new content in diverse and interesting ways (one of the best, to me, was the European girl that is a regular 9Gag user and commenter, and a lot of the images she sees, scrolls through, end up being the series/shows/content she searches for online).
Maybe instead of looking through the data, we should talk to more of our users personally, so as to get a big picture over what they say/think, instead of doing through the internet, through data channels, through forums.
Transmedia needs to adapt not only to the high-aged, content consumers (and ultimate content buyers) but also the younger generation of consumers who do it for free. When they want. How they want. Where they want.
Think that’s it.
If you have kids, talk to them. If you have brothers/sisters, see how they tick. If you have cousins, friends, “play around with them” for a few games. Absorb as much as you can from how they see/use the world of media.
Because… in the not so distant future… they’ll be your end-user. Regardless of their age. Sooner or later… they’ll be at your doorstep. So be informed by how they’ll want to consume their content.
Your content. The future of Transmedia.