Despite the inarguable fact that digital media has a massive impact on the lives of kids the world over, business planning in the industry has always been hampered by a lack of far-reaching analysis looking at how kids are actually consuming media on these platform devices. But not anymore. Nick and MTV have just released their biggest-ever research project – a two-part global study called Circuits of Cool/Digital Playground. Its findings examine the impact of culture, age and gender on usage, as well as challenging traditional assumptions about kids’ relationship with digital tech in some surprising ways.
The team behind the Digital Playground project surveyed 7,000 kids ages eight to 14 from 12 different countries, while Circuits of Cool’s crew talked to 18,000 teens with easy access to the internet, mobile phones and at least two other electronic devices. With help from Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions, MTVN/Nick crunched the data and took a comprehensive look at 21 technologies that impact young people, including internet, email, TV, mobile, IM, cable and handheld consoles.
‘There’s been so much hype surrounding technology; we wanted to cut through some of that and get a more truthful lay of the land,’ says Colleen Fahey Rush, EVP of research for MTV Networks. Nick and MTV will use the studies’ findings to inform their own content production strategies and plans, as well as sharing them with advertisers and business partners across 137 TV channels and 260 web and mobile services.
Covering a total of 16 countries (the UK, Germany, Holland, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, the US, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, China, India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand), Circuits of Cool/Digital Playground highlights a lot of hidden market realities and misconceptions. For example, the research sheds new light on Japan’s reputation for having an all-ages love affair with technology. In actuality, Japanese kids live in small homes with limited privacy, and they don’t often have their own computer or laptop until they go away to college. As anticipated, cell phones are ubiquitous with Japanese youth because they offer both private and portable communication. But Japanese teens tend to use IM and email less than their peers from the other 16 countries, and they have fewer online friends.
Kids in China don’t spend nearly as much time on cell phones as Japanese kids do, but they are huge users of online social networks, blogs and instant messaging. The reason? China has a preponderance of only-children who use the web and IM as a means to reach out to kids their own age. A full 93% of the Chinese kids who participated in the study have more than one online friend they’ve never met in person, and they average 37 online friends apiece.
Taking this thread one step further, the research shows that technology’s greatest impact has been on the depth and range of friends that teens have. Globally, the average tech-savvy young person has 94 phone numbers in his/her cell phone contact list, 78 IM buddies and 86 people in their social networking community. Kids ages eight to 14 start out with 11 friends on average, and as they grow into their teen years, they quickly rack up dozens more to top out at 53 online and face-to-face friends.
Interestingly, kids have embraced cell phones in an unpredictable and unintended way. While they rank as an important means of self-expression and communication for teens, Fahey Rush says kids under 14 tend to use the phones more as toys.
Instant messaging has certainly come on strong in last few years as an essential facet of kid culture. More than half of Circuits of Cool/Digital Playground’s respondents said they could talk about more things on IM than face-to-face, and 53% claimed they could get to know people better in this medium. Nearly 70% say checking their IM account is the first thing they do after turning on the computer. But despite its ubiquity and entrenched status, Fahey Rush doesn’t see IM as having as much potential for advertising as mobile phones. Consumers are willing to accept ads attached to content as a means to an end. But IM’s profile as a private P2P communication tool doesn’t really leave any opening for marketing messages.
One key take-away from the study for marketers is the extent to which young people rely on friends’ recommendations for everything from movies to clothing brands. A clear majority of teens said that 88% of links they check out and 55% of the viral videos they download are sent their way by a friend. ‘I would say we’re in an era where everyone needs to be considered an influencer,’ says Fahey Rush. ‘It’s not just a small elite group anymore.’ She adds that the challenge now for marketers is to figure out how to play a part in the conversations friends are having with each other.
Though kids are immersed in new tech, the study found that digital communication vehicles such as IM, email, social networking sites and mobile phones/texting complement the experience of watching TV, rather than cannibalize it. According to Fahey Rush, the study’s respondents say they tune in to relieve stress, and 60% of kids watch TV while lying down. The internet, on the other hand, is a much more cognitive and active tool, especially if kids are using it for studying or social interaction. Still, a full 59% of kids ages eight to 14 said they prefer TV to their computers.
In terms of overall enjoyment, kids rank TV as their favorite pastime (85%), followed by listening to music (70%), hanging out with friends (68%), playing video games (67%) and spending time online (51%). As they age into the teen years, the list changes up, with listening to music taking top spot (70%), followed by watching TV or hanging out with friends (both with 65%), watching DVDs (60%), relaxing (60%), going to the movies (59%), spending time online (56%), spending time with a girlfriend or boyfriend (55%), eating (53%) and hanging out at home (49%).