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Kids are rapidly adopting technology as their own, and this digital reality impacts any product or service targeted to them. To that end, I'd like to offer up a snapshot of the current generation of digi-kids that might help point out some new opportunities.
June 1, 2008

Kids are rapidly adopting technology as their own, and this digital reality impacts any product or service targeted to them. To that end, I’d like to offer up a snapshot of the current generation of digi-kids that might help point out some new opportunities.

It’s worth noting that kids are consuming both classic and new media, and using tried-and-true consumer electronics devices such as TVs. But the new media device they turn to the most is the computer. In fact, the NPD Group’s Kids and Digital Content study found that 78% of US kids ages two to 14 use computers, while our ongoing Kids & Consumer Electronics study reveals that five-and-a-half is the average age of first-time use. Furthermore, 75% of kids two to 14 with access to the internet use the computer to go online, and 65% of these kids are independent surfers – no help from mom or dad required.

This behavior has really opened up opportunities to create kid-targeted virtual worlds and foster a lot of web-connected play in the past year. Ganz’ Webkinz has truly become the poster-child for a successful web/toy model, and the company has been joined by several toy manufacturers looking for a piece of the pie.

According to our most recent consumer tracking data, sales of these types of toys in the US have shot up from US$67 million in 2007 to more than US$411 million in the 12 months that ended in March 2008. What’s interesting is that kids seem to be as engaged by the toys as they are by the corresponding virtual worlds. In a recent survey, only 3% to 16% of web-connected toy owners reported that they didn’t play with the toy after accessing the online content (results depended on the brand). So it’s worth noting that the toy must remain compelling in its own right to successfully marry the two worlds.

Online connectivity has also had an impact on toy sales. From March ’07 to March ’08, US toys sales through online channels grew to US$1.6 billion, up nearly 9% from the same period in the previous year. In fact, online is the only retail channel that’s seen an increase in toy sales during this time. It appears that these connected kids have connected parents, who are also using the internet and its myriad tools.

It’s also interesting to explore how kids discover the websites they wind up visiting regularly. For preschool and early school-aged children, the NPD Group’s Online Play study found that this group primarily learns about new sites through TV shows (representing 50% of the sample group) and ads (roughly 30%). This is a prime example of how new and classic media are managing to integrate.

Some of the most popular websites used by kids belong to the big broadcasters, including Nickelodeon, Disney, Cartoon Network and PBS Kids. We’ve found that kids use these sites to learn more about their favorite shows and characters, but they’re also drawn in by the games and activities available once they’re there. For tweens, this dynamic starts to change. These older kids tend to learn about websites through online searches (45%), followed by getting the low-down from their friends and classmates (more than 30%).

US kids also realize there may be trade-offs among their screen-based activities. In that same study of Online Play, we asked kids what activities they’d most likely give up to get more play time online. The top response? Watching TV, followed by watching movies. But their parents might not be willing to pay for it.

In a recent poll we discovered that gatekeepers were reluctant to spend any money on purchasing digital/online content for their charges. A full 38% said they would not spend anything, while 26% said they would be willing to fork out less than US$9 a month. The one hopeful stat is that 14% appear to be big spenders, agreeing to dedicate between US$30 and US$39 a month to buying digital content for their kids.

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