Next week, Common Sense Media will release a new study on media use among children ages eight to 18. The world has changed radically since the last iteration of this study, which was conducted five years ago.
“Radically” may be too weak a word: The previous study came out three months before the iPad debuted in early April 2010 (it counted laptops as “mobile media.”) It’s hard to believe that tablets are toddler-aged, given how maturely they’ve settled into young people’s play, communication, study and creativity.
Here are a few predictions of what I expect to hear next week about tweens’ and teens’ media world, and what it would mean.
Time spent with media will remain astronomical, but multitasking will have changed in nature. In 2010, young people were using screen media for 7:38 hours per day, but cramming more than 10 hours of content into that time through simultaneous use of multiple devices. In 2015, I’d anticipate that total use will – incredibly – be even higher. There’s little available time left to fill (unless we count in-school technology use), but we read often about teens losing sleep as they keep their devices switched on overnight, out of FOMO.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that multitasking has flattened, however. Many young people still watch TV (more on that in a moment) while doing something else; however, growing convergence on the does-everything tablet may yield rapid, sequential consumption more than simultaneous uses.
This is, perhaps, content creators’ biggest challenge. On a phone or tablet, kids are just a “home” button away from…everything: video, games, ebooks, social media, apps, web content. We’re only beginning to understand the significance, including how to create content that won’t get “homed” (or at least how to keep kids’ journeys within your brand) and how to foster deep engagement or learning in such a distractible environment.
Reports of TV’s death are greatly exaggerated. If the Common Sense findings echo Dubit’s research, we’ll see that television – even “live” and scheduled TV – remains a foundation in young people’s media use. Total time with the “box in the living room” will likely have dropped but not plummeted, since all of us have times and situations when we want simply to enjoy a well-told narrative. It’s also well established that old habits don’t just disappear.
What traditional producers and channels need to consider is the when and why of TV use. Old commissioning and scheduling models may no longer stand up when kids have options like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and (especially) YouTube. We need updated psychographic analyses of circumstances and moods that drive young people to choose lean-back viewing.
Kids are, however, watching shorter content. Undoubtedly, the report will refer to young people’s growing consumption (and creation) of short-form videos. What will it make of this?
Some in the tut-tut crowd are eager to suggest that YouTube and its ilk reflect shortened attention spans. More likely (and a valuable theme for future research), there’s never before been a ubiquitous platform for short formats, so kids are eagerly exploring this new content and innovative genres. Tagging and search functions enable tweens and teens to find streaming content that appeals to their diversifying interests. Moreover, producers can tell stories at their appropriate lengths, not padded to reach arbitrary standards. Dubit doesn’t see a drop in kids’ willingness to engage with longer content, provided it’s relevant and engaging: YouTuber Stampy has over 6.5 million subscribers and more than 4 billion total views, with videos ranging from under two minutes to over 30.
No one uses Facebook any more; it’s too crowded. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, we hear that teens are abandoning Facebook because their parents and grandparents are there; perhaps to accommodate that user range, its mechanics feel slow to young people. A quick Google search reveals a series of headlines over the past three years proclaiming that teens have migrated to Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Snapchat. Yet, for every such dire assessment, there’s a counter study that proves Berra’s irony – teens are still on Zuckerberg’s social network, en masse.
I’d expect, therefore, that the new study will find Facebook is still widely used, but not teens’ favorite. (I’ll turn a blind eye to under-13s, though we know they’re there.). Presented with a widening social smorgasbord, media-immersed youth use all options, in evolving ways, and it becomes hard to make definitive statements.
Digital Divide or Mobile Meld? What have the past five years meant for equitable access to digital learning and entertainment resources? I hope that mobile growth – pocket power – will have narrowed gaps somewhat. Prices are declining (some estimate that by 2017, a billion people in the developing world will have new, low-cost smartphones) and speed is increasing (the iPhone 6s is 50% faster than the iPhone 6, which was 50x faster than the original iPhone).
I’m very eager for the research release. I’ve not been especially bold in my forecasts; these trends are visible in many people’s research, so I hope the new study holds surprises. We’re at a critical moment for children’s media creative and business, with tweens in particular poorly served. Vicky Rideout‘s studies are always insightful, deep and equally relevant to parents, scholars and content creators.
The Common Sense Media research will be presented at a forum in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, November 4. Follow along on Twitter – @davidkleeman or #8to18.