Escapism drives tween tube culture

Realizing early on that the key to sustaining audience growth lies in better understanding the core kid and teen viewers, YTV-Canada's premiere youth net-decided to annually track their changing tastes, focusing the research on the nine to 14 demo.
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January 1, 2001

Realizing early on that the key to sustaining audience growth lies in better understanding the core kid and teen viewers, YTV-Canada’s premiere youth net-decided to annually track their changing tastes, focusing the research on the nine to 14 demo.

Now in its sixth year, the study is comprised of 45-minute in-home interviews with 600 Canadian tweens-as well as a brief questionnaire for parents-to capture household characteristics. This research helps YTV better program for this hormonally-challenged and very complex demographic. Here’s what’s been learned six years and 3,500 tweens later.

Tweens are exuberant, optimistic, techno-savvy, vocal and opinionated people with short attention spans. They are also discriminating consumers who wield huge influence on household purchases of various products and services. All that, and they are still not old enough to drive a car!

Kids and tweens continue to be mesmerized by television, both after school and on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The lower end of the tween range, as measured in the kids two to 11 Nielsen rating bracket, have increased their weekly TV viewing hours from 13.1 in the 1996/97 season to 15.6 hours in fall 2000. Teens in the 12 to 17 range are also fitting more tube time in, with their weekly tally up from 15.8 hours to 16.3 over the same time period. Animation currently dominates the top of the program charts for kids and tweens, as confirmed by both the YTV Kid & Tween Report and Nielsen Media Research. They look for shows that provide fantasy and escapism in their leisure time, with The Simpsons, Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z and Digimon being some of their favorites

Part of the Echo Boomer generation (offspring of the Baby Boomers), tweens were born into the technology revolution. As such, they find themselves increasingly in control of it, as adults relinquish some of their authority in today’s high-tech global village.

Computers and the Internet are an intricate part of tweens’ daily lives. The YTV Kid & Tween Report notes that three out of four tweens have a computer at home, and close to nine in 10 have Internet access at home, school or the library. This year, tweens who use the Internet spent an average 3.8 hours per week on the Internet, compared to 2.4 hours last year (a 58% increase). Boys spend more time on-line than girls (4.5 hours per week versus 3.2 hours per week). Aside from using the Net as a resource for schoolwork, boys love to play on-line games, either with other players on the web or on their own. Girls use the Internet to e-mail their friends.

Instant messaging is also extremely popular among 13- and 14-year-olds: ‘brb’ (be right back), ‘gtg’ (got to go), ‘j/k’ (just kidding), ‘lol’ (laughing out loud), ‘ttyl’ (talk to you later), * grin * (feelings and emotions enclosed in asterisks) are part of the current instant messaging vocabulary created by Internet-savvy tweens, terms that would be foreign to the average adult.

Tweens are constantly on the lookout for all things ‘new’-both products and experiences. Empowerment and self-expression are the motivation behind tweens wanting to start a fashion trend or to own the latest gadget.

Tweens have a fair chunk of change jingling in their pockets with which to buy cutting-edge gear. In 2000, Canadian tweens boasted an aggregate annual income (all discretionary) of roughly US$1.2 billion, gleaned from a variety of sources like part-time jobs, regular allowances, birthday money, holiday gift money, etc. Candy, clothes and music are the top three items Canadian tweens spend their own money on, which have consistently remained on the top of tween lists since 1995.

Tweens are acutely aware of the world around them and are confident that they can make a difference. They are empathetic and embrace social issues, are environmentally friendly, and are less worried about school and street violence than their parents are. In fact, over 70% expect to be better off than their parents when they become adults.

Relationships and camaraderie are paramount, as are respect for individuality and tolerance for diversity. Over half of tweens suggest that they would like more free time for unscheduled and unstructured activities. No wonder they seek escapism and fantasy in their leisure-time activities.

Since 1995, soccer has usurped baseball and basketball to take top spot this year.

Tweens acknowledge that TV continues to remain their favorite form of entertainment, but they encounter and interact with a myriad of different media (TV, Internet, video games, music, magazines and books) on a daily basis. And they have come to expect-and demand-that their information and entertainment be delivered on many different platforms. And why not? The world is at their fingertips.

Julie Look is director of research at YTV, Canada’s first youth specialty net (launched in 1988).

Other Canadian tween faves

Food for dinner at home-pizza for boys, pasta for girls

Toy-video games for boys, music-themed dolls for girls

(of the Britney or Spice Girls variety)

Video game-Nintendo titles for boys, Yahoo! for girls

TV program-The Simpsons for boys, Friends for girls

Movie-Mission Impossible 2 for boys, Titanic for girls

Magazine-Sports Illustrated for boys, Teen for girls

Fast-food restaurant-McDonald’s

Brand of clothing-Nike

Car-Porsche for boys, convertibles for girls

Athlete-Michael Jordan

Actor/actress-Jim Carrey for boys,

Julia Roberts for girls

Means of talking to friends

when not together-telephone

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