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Beware Media Millennials

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Though it might have been difficult to forecast as the 21st century dawned, in 2010, we are certainly already deep into a new era of media consumption, largely based on a new generation of Americans who have grown up with the notion of freely available media materials, courtesy of the internet.  These millennials, most of whom were born in the 1980s or later, have certainly gained a sense of entitlement, as they surf the world wide web for their news, music, television episodes and movies.  What is less clear is how these 30-and-under users position themselves and what their preferences would be regarding the many choices of media now available.

A recent survey was distributed to these youthful enthusiasts to determine the how and why of their selections when it comes to the mass media.  300 college students were targeted at three distinct Southern California institutions: The University of La Verne, The Art Institute of California, and California State University at Pomona.  All students were in a class concerning mass media and communication, though they did not necessarily have to be in a communications major to take the survey.  263 students responded to the survey.

The findings were automatically tabulated online. Some points were surprising, others shocking, and in places, flatly predictable.  69% of the respondents were born between 1984 and 1992, making the vast majority of participants in the survey as old as 26 and as young as 17, the key target consumer group in many forms of U.S. mass media. Given that that key group would have been 10 and younger in 1994, the year of the first major explosion of internet availability, the response to the second question is surprising: an overwhelming number – 196 – said that they did recall a time before they had access to the internet at home, school or work.  Perhaps the question should have been re-worded to note any type of awareness of internet whatsoever, versus actual access.  Regardless, without internet, these people, however young, would have had definite awareness of other forms of media, especially hard media with regards to music, magazines, news, etc.

Questions three through 10 concerned motion pictures.  First off, the respondents noted in almost increasing amounts, that they attend movies in a theatrical setting far less than expected.  The highest number, 71, indicated that they only attend a theater four or fewer times a year, while a scant 20% of this split answer said that they see a movie in a theater twice a month or more often.  This trend denotes a marked drop in general movie attendance.

Question four most clearly explains the results of question three: that is, that these consumers are in greatest numbers renting their movies from various rental firms and sites.  An exact third noted that they are renting movies much more so than attending a theater when they wish to view a film.  As such, questions three and four interlock most logically.  The other responses to question four are fairly split along the remaining choices and are somewhat inconsequential in comparison to the top answer.
Question five follows up to four in asking about viewing movies on cable TV.  In another surprise, the respondents noted that they are clearly watching cable movies much less than going to a theater.  As theatrical attendance also scored poorly, this in turn denotes these students’ use of renting films or watching them online in favor of watching cable.  This is fitting with this generation’s tendency towards interactivity; passive viewing is often de-emphasized next to interactive media consumption.

The next question concerns DVD ownership, which has been on the decline in the past several years. The response to this question had a clear and definite verdict: this target group is only purchasing DVDs when there is a strong desire to own a certain title.  This is likely due to many factors, some of which are surely due to sagging overall economics in the climate at present, but also the nature of DVD ownership: while only a scant 6% purchase DVDs regularly, 59% are quite discriminating about their purchases in this arena.  Not to be disregarded, 34.5% noted that they either infrequently or never buy DVDs currently.

Question seven had no clear single verdict, but when put together, 58% of the 255 students who responded are either rarely or never watching a movie streamed on the web via an online service, while only 42% are doing so often or regularly.  This indicates that the large percentage of these students are not spending their web time watching a movie.  This is likely due to the fact that, being students, they are doing other types of web tasks – research, e-mail, social networking, etc. – than watching movies.

The biggest surprise in this study was the answer to question eight.  While common beliefs dictate rampant illegal downloading of movies by people who have regular internet access and interest, such as the college students in this age group, an amazing 43% – the leading response category – noted that they never download movies illegally.  Put together with the further 34% who answered that they do so infrequently, that makes for an undeniable 77% who are not downloading movies, now thought to be one of the clear indications that movies are losing their audience to immoral web users.  Perhaps this answer is the truth; perhaps the users feared persecution from the survey administrator – regardless, this finding is conclusive at least for this particular survey at this particular time.

In keeping with surprises herein, though theatrical movie attendance was shattered in the third question, these responders indicated that, above all, and given new technologies, they would clearly most prefer to watch a movie in a theater and not on a disc system, TV, internet, and – in an unprecedented low amount of responses – on a mobile device.  A full 50% selected a theater as their primary viewing venue, while just 28% would prefer a disc and a scant 1% would prefer a mobile device.  The other choices, while preferable to mobile, were insignificant next to theatrical and DVD.

The last movie question concerned Blu-rays, which for many is a new technology. Interesting that fewer than one in five responders owns Blu-rays, but that 32% of responders would like to own them. This indicates that Blu-rays are surely too expensive for this group to own.  In addition, taken together, 50% of these millennials noted that they will likely never own Blu-rays due to the cost or the fact that their DVD collection suffices for their current viewing needs. Taken as a whole, the news for this group forecasts a worse picture for Blu-rays than for DVD sales, which have already started a downward turn.

In the next group, questions 11-14 concern television.  Predictably, as revealed in question 11, this group, predominantly made up of late teens and twenty-somethings, watches broadcast TV channels far less than basic and premium cable channels, with 56% of them indicating less or much less viewership of NBC, ABC, CBS, etc. than channels, which include HBO, Cinemax, MTV, etc., many of whom now offer original programming in drama and comedy that compete head-to-head with the broadcast networks, albeit with many fewer restrictions.  With the networks collectively reporting less than 50% of the total viewing audience, it’s easy to understand why these 18-30-year olds only reported 15% as a group who watch broadcast TV more or much more than cable stations.  Somewhat revealing was the finding in question 12 which lists a high percentage – nearly 40 – who are watching their cable TV over broadcast on a cable-based system as opposed to a satellite system.  More surprising is the somewhat smaller audience for TV viewership via internet.  Hulu.com, which posts NBC’s programs, YouTube and other sites which offer episodes of TV programs, have only 31% of these regular web users while 35% noted that they only sometimes use these sites and 25% hardly if ever use them.  This flies in the face of what would be expected of heavy web users, yet, like the lack of interest in watching full-length movies on the web, these users do not seem to be regularly using sites for TV viewing in great numbers.

In keeping with the decreasing purchases of movies on DVD, the answer to question 14 is hardly illuminating, as the majority of responses indicate that these consumers “never,” followed closely by “hardly ever” buy full seasons of TV show episodes on DVD.  Moreover, a very small percentage – just over 6 – is buying these sets with frequency.  This trend likely says more about DVD ownership in general than these buyers’ choices of movies and TV shows to have in their collection.

Questions 15-18 attempt to shed light on the trends that the music business is discovering about this new wave of Americans.  Just as DVD sales have sagged, so have CD sales, as more customers turn to digital downloads of all types for their music.  As indicated in question 15, even fans of a band are a “maybe” at best for CD purchases, with only 21% “definitely” buying their preferred bands’ music on CD while 33% noted that only in select cases will they do so.  The combined “not likely”-“never” category for CD sales is a staggering 45%, and as the question is stated, this is for the true fans of a particular band.  Buying music via iTunes or other online music sales sites (Amazon, etc.) is decidedly split amongst the “definitely”-“maybe”-“not likely” areas, with “never” falling far below those three, meaning that digital music sales are possible but not guaranteed with this surveyed group.

The next response will be most unsettling for media companies, which is the subject of downloading music.  Unlike in the movie downloading query, where most respondents indicated “never” as their choice, in the music category “definitely” was the main choice, with a whopping 43% of the surveyed audience noting that the will surely download music for free if they like a band.  Next to the 111 people who indicated so, the other responses nearly seem meaningless.  Why music is so heavily downloaded without recompense to the media company or artist whereas movies were not listed as a download choice is hard to determine from these questions alone.  Perhaps a full movie, at 90 to 180 minutes, versus a song, at three to five minutes, and, as a compressed MP3 being a scant few megabytes, is too big of an operation for the average lay user.  Regardless, the music download question, especially noting the lack of payment for such, is a huge wakeup call for anyone in that field as to their market’s choices.

That brings up the question of live performance, which, given nearly non-existent music sales, is where many artists earn the lion’s share of their income as performers.  In this case, price was dangled as one of the factors in choices to see a band live.  Apparently, as concert prices have skyrocketed in the last 20 years, concert attendance has  been relegated to more soluble financial groups – namely older concertgoers.  As unveiled in this study, 50% of the target group will only see a band they like if the price is right, by far the biggest number of any answer.  Also noteworthy is that, perhaps due to cost, 18% of this group does not at all see bands live and restricts its experiences to the recorded music forum.

Following closely and surely surprising for this market is the next question concerning radio.  A massive 59% receive their radio primarily by the 40-year-old-+ standard of AM-FM radio listened to in the car.  Satellite radio tracked very poorly in this study , with under 10 people noting any satellite usage whatever, and a far reduced 32% noted internet radio sources via websites as their main radio format.

Lastly, to cap the study and drive home how and where these users receive most of their media, the final question, about news, information, and research, was the largest one-sided margin in this entire study.  An uncompromising 88% of the 263 people who answered this question firmly asserted their main source of all such knowledge gathering as the internet.  Shocking and disturbing was how few – only 8 replies in total – use newspapers, magazines, and books for their information resources.  A dismal seven choose radio for information while a barely-breathing 15 use TV and DVD.  This amazing find certainly closes out this study with the succinct dissemination of the internet as the primary learning and gathering avenue for these new millennials, who, as the current decade progresses, will only contain more web-savvy consumers even less familiar with traditional media than those studied here.

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