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Straight Talk Media & Entertainment

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This week's Straight Talk is written by guest columnist Nick Thomas

Two new studies of young audiences in the UK highlight the importance of video content and the way young people’s expectations of TV are shifting. Both legacy media companies and new digital providers are starting to understand how best to engage future audiences when the boundaries between TV and other digital media are blurring.

New research confirms that young UK viewers spend more time online than on TV

Two new reports published in the UK this week seem to confirm TV executives’ worst fears about changing media consumption habits among young audiences. The latest in a series of yearly reports from Child Wise, which surveyed more than 2,000 youngsters aged 5-16, concluded that, for the first time, this group is spending more time on the Internet than watching TV.

Further apparent gloom lay in a new report from UK regulator Ofcom, Children’s Media Lives, which found, based on the group of 8-15 year olds it studied, that “video on demand (VoD) and catch-up dominates children’s TV viewing.”

The big story is not the decline in TV viewing but the 50% rise in Internet consumption

On closer inspection, what is notable in Child Wise’s study is less the decline in average daily TV view time in the last 12 months (from 2.3 hours to 2.1 hours) than the huge leap in Internet time, from 2 hours to 3 hours per day. Since the methodology does not distinguish between watching video content on the Internet from other activities online, it is possible (indeed likely) that the group are watching even more video content than before, but spreading their viewing across TV and non-broadcast video (music and comedy being the most popular genres), and across devices and platforms.

This blurring of the lines between TV and other video content is not just a methodological one for researchers. Kids themselves, according to the Ofcom report, “have a broad concept of ‘watching TV’ that includes many types of audiovisual content, viewed across multiple platforms and devices.” That sounds like a cause for optimism for traditional TV players, expect that they are now providing an apparently declining share of what the youngest audiences define as “TV.”

Kids still love “watching TV” but their concept of “TV” now includes other forms of video

TV broadcasters in the UK have not helped themselves by removing children’s content from their main channels in the last few years. As with the BBC’s decision to move its youth-skewing BBC3 online, this removal of kids’ content from TV did not just anticipate changing audience habits, it actually accelerated the migration from linear TV channels. Yet even in these reports there is little evidence of kids abandoning the TV as a viewing device. As Ofcom’s report also notes, “While content is the biggest driver for TV viewing, when children have a choice of viewing options they often opt for the biggest screen.”

So legacy TV broadcasters seeking to retain young viewers can potentially build on this idea that all video counts as “watching TV,” even if it is neither made for, nor viewed on, a TV set. Bundling a “best of the Web” offering alongside the core channels is a nod in the right direction, although it is not likely to move the needle. The reality is that, for younger viewers (and a significant proportion of older viewers too), the video content they watch is increasingly unlikely to be content that is made for TV.

Great TV content is no longer enough – the future of TV lies as part of a richer experience

In this evolving universe of “TV,” it is the traditional players that are losing share of viewing time to new challengers who operate by different rules. Services such as Netflix Kids and YouTube are growing in popularity, especially as the broadcasters no longer have the advantage of dedicated linear TV services to attract and retain audiences, and to promote and build content brands. And TV players have struggled to harness the power of social as a tool for recommendation and sharing content. While broadcasters still believe better recommendation engines would stop audiences disappearing, kids appear to have few problems finding short-form video content they want to watch online and on mobile devices.

The competition doesn’t just come from YouTube, of course. Both Facebook and Snapchat have pivoted successfully towards becoming video distribution platforms in the last 12 months, while music streaming service Spotify is among the growing list of popular digital services now looking to expand into video, apparently realizing that, for many users, video is now the default format for consuming music. Thus digital media players without a strong video offering may well fear for their future.

DisneyLife provides a template for future digital media services

More significantly for young audiences, perhaps, is competition from cross-platform brands that have built communities around a range of experiences (including short videos, TV shows, books, magazines, toys, and games). The launch of DisneyLife in the UK – which for £9.99 ($14) per month gives users access to a range of Disney content, including movies, videos, music, and magazines – is evidence that a legacy media giant can successfully reinvent itself and remain relevant and valuable to young audiences. Or consider the ongoing appeal of Minecraft (now owned by Microsoft), whose exponents create some of the most-watched content on YouTube, while also buying games, books, magazines, and apps.

Young kids watching cartoons on Netflix Kids, or Minecraft videos on YouTube, or movies on DisneyLife may still consider that what they are doing is “watching TV.” But it’s a semantic hangover, like “taping” a show on a PVR. Broadcast TV as we know it – linear, scheduled, professionally produced content – will remain a vital part of the future of “watching TV.” But, as young audiences are showing us, it will increasingly be just one component of a wider multiservice, multimedia, cross-platform, social experience. Adjusting to that new reality will be a huge challenge for the wider TV and digital media industry in the next decade.

Straight Talk is a weekly briefing from the desk of the Chief Research Officer. To receive this newsletter by email, please contact us.

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