NEW YORK and LONDON, The average Chinese young person has 37 online friends he or she has never met, Indian youth are most likely to see mobile phones as a status symbol, while one in three UK and US teenagers say they can’t live without their games console.
Globally, the average young person connected to digital technology has 94 phone numbers in his or her mobile phone, 78 people on a messenger buddy list and 86 people in his or her social networking community. Yet despite their technological immersion, digi-kids are not geeks — 59% of 8-14 year-old kids still prefer their TV to their PCs and only 20% of 14-24 year-old young people globally admitted to being "interested" in technology. They are, however, expert multi-taskers and able to filter different channels of information.
These are just some of the findings from the largest-ever global study undertaken by MTV and Nickelodeon, in association with Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions, into how kids and young people interact with digital technology. The Circuits of Cool/Digital Playground technology and lifestyle study challenges traditional assumptions about their relationships with digital technology, and examines the impact of culture, age and gender on technology use.
Bill Roedy, Vice Chairman of MTV Networks International, a unit of Viacom Inc. (NYSE:VIA)(NYSE:VIA.B), said: "Digital technology is impacting every aspect of content creation across Nickelodeon and MTV channels. Our groundbreaking report highlights our commitment to engaging with kids and young people globally. It will help us build stronger and more innovative alliances with business partners across our 137 TV channels and 260 web and mobile services. We’re delighted to have joined forces with Microsoft on this major project."
"Digital communications — from IM, SMS, social networking to email — have all revolutionized how young people communicate with their peers. We wanted to understand more deeply how young people interact with these technologies and consequently what this means for our advertising partners focused on reaching this highly engaged and influential audience. Working with MTV Networks globally on this study enabled us to do so," said Chris Dobson, Vice President, Global Advertising Sales, Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions.
Circuits of Cool/Digital Playground used both qualitative and quantitative methodology to talk to 18,000 "tech embracing" kids (8-14) and young people (14-24) in 16 countries: UK, Germany, Holland, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, US, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, China, India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. MTV Networks and Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions studied 21 technologies that impact on the lives of young people: internet, email, PC, TV, mobile, IM, cable and sat TV, DVD, MP3, stereo/hi-fi, digital cameras, social networks, on and offline video games, CDs, HD TV, VHS, webcams, MP4 players, DVR/PVRs, and hand-held games consoles.
The report found:
— Technology has enabled young people to have more and closer
friendships thanks to constant connectivity.
— Friends influence each other as much as marketers do. Friends are as
important as brands.
— Kids and young people don’t love the technology itself — they just
love how it enables them to communicate all the time, express
themselves and be entertained.
— Digital communications such as IM, email, social networking sites and
mobile/sms are complementary to, not competitive with, TV. TV is part
of young peoples’ digital conversation.
— Despite the remarkable advances in communication technology, kid and
youth culture looks surprisingly familiar, with almost all young
people using technology to enhance rather than replace face-to-face
— Globally, the number of friends that young males have more than
doubles between the ages of 13-14 and 14-17 — it jumps from 24 to 69.
— The age group and gender that claims the largest number of friends are
not girls aged 14-17, but boys aged 18-21, who have on average 70
The study found that while many young people have access to similar digital technologies, they use them in very different ways. "Technology is adopted and adapted in different ways in different parts of the world — and that depends as much on local culture as on the technology itself," said Colleen Fahey Rush, Executive Vice President of Research for MTV Networks.
For example, Japan’s reputation as a land in love with technology is different from the reality. Japanese young people live in small homes with limited privacy, generally don’t have their own PC until they go to college and socialize away from home a lot. As a result, their key digital device is the mobile phone because it offers privacy and portability.
Unlike young people in other countries, Japanese kids and young people have few online friends. Japanese kids aged 8-14 have only one online friend they haven’t met, compared to a global average of 5, while Japanese teenagers have only seven online friends they haven’t met — compared to a global average of 20. Japanese teens also used IM and email the least out of the 16 countries surveyed.
China has lower mobile usage amongst young people, a less-evolved print media market and a family life of no siblings with parents and multiple grandparents. As a result, the internet provides a rare opportunity for only — and lonely — children to reach out and communicate using social networks, blogs and instant messaging. In stark contrast to their Japanese peers, 93% of Chinese respondents 8-14 have more than one friend online they have never met face to face.
"Chinese kids inhabit a world very different from their parents, and because of that they would rather find advice and support through their friends than through family," said Fahey Rush. Amongst 8-14s globally, only in China was TV not the No. 1 choice. "This is encouraging 8-14-year-olds in China to select online over TV, a trend not witnessed in any other market," she said.
Climate impacts on digital technology too. In countries with a strong outdoor culture, such as Italy, Brazil and Australia, young people use mobiles for arranging to meet, flirt and take pictures of their friends.
Northern Europeans take a practical approach to technology, but are perhaps the most immersed in it of all. Out of all nationalities surveyed, young Danes are most likely to say they can’t live without mobiles (80%) or TVs (75%), and young Dutch most likely to say they can’t live without e-mail (85%).
Despite the plethora of new communicating tools, a majority in almost every nation expressed a preference for meeting in person, although Japanese, Chinese, Poles and Germans scored higher than others when it came to wanting to communicate online. Only Chinese youth actually expressed a majority preference for texting over face-to-face meetings.
More and closer friendships
Circuits of Cool/Digital Playground found that technology’s greatest impact has been on the depth and range of friends that 14-24s have. From having an average 11 friends between the ages of 8-14, young people speedily acquire circles of dozens of friends in their teenage years. The average 14- 24 has an average of 53 online and face-to-face friends — and communicate with them often. "Under the age of 14, kids generally use the phone as a toy. After 14, the mobile phone quickly becomes a means of self-expression and communication," said Fahey Rush.
Many of the 14-24s surveyed said that the different forms of communication enabled them to talk about more intimate subjects than they would have otherwise done. Over half said that they could talk about more things on IM than face-to-face, 53% said that they could get to know people better, while around 4 out of every ten said that they found it easier to make new friends and felt less lonely as a result of using the Internet. "The role friends play in the lives of young people has increased dramatically. Socializing doesn’t stop when kids come home from college or school; it just goes online. Young people are now constantly connected," said MTV Network’s Fahey Rush.
On average, 14-24s said they had 20 online friends, with Brazilians claiming the most — 46. Communicating with their friends is a priority. Nearly 70% said the first thing they did after turning on their computer was to check IM. Out of all young people surveyed, 14-17 girls spend the least time online — 21 hours per week — whilst 22-24 males spent the most time online — 31 hours a week online. One hundred percent of those surveyed said they communicate every time they go online.
"The power of online communication tools, like instant messenger and social networking sites, enables young people to communicate both privately and with multiple friends. Features in IM, like winks and emoticons, add to the fun of chatting and allow them to express themselves more deeply," said Caroline Vogt, Head of International Research, Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions.
Safety and parental control
Safety and parental oversight ranks high on the uses technology serves with the younger demographics. 68% of 8-14 respondents said they felt safer having their mobile phones with them outside the home — rising to 81% in the UK — and 71% said their parents use the phone to find out where they are. "In some countries, and Mexico is a good example, children are bought mobiles as a key safety item," said Fahey Rush.
When parents aren’t around, 8-14s are more likely to communicate with friends, participate in chat forums and use the internet for entertainment. German kids aged 8-14 use the internet the least of all countries studied and were also the least likely to view it positively — only 25% of German kids said they loved the internet — compared to 73% of Dutch kids. The behavior is likely to be linked the high degree of parental supervision of German kids on the internet.
With social networking becoming a frequent online activity for over half of youth, 35% are claiming they now use these sites because all their friends are on them. This helps to explain the phenomenal rise of social networking – – their popularity is based on collective usage. In the UK, one of the strongest reasons for using social networks is to keep young people from feeling left out. "Parents should take comfort from these findings. Kids and youths prefer to connect with their friendship groups and, at most, extend out to people with similar interests. The perception amongst young people is that it’s their parents who are more likely to use digital networks for online dating or meeting strangers!" said Vogt.
Advertisers and content companies wishing to evolve and engage with kids and youth audiences need to understand the changes taking place in how kids and young people lead their lives. "Traditionally, marketing has considered opinion formers and influencers to be a small number of people. Nowadays it has become a much larger group," said Fahey Rush.
A clear majority of young people asked said the majority of website links (88%) they viewed and the viral video content they downloaded (55%) came from friends’ recommendations. Audiences also wanted more control of what they watched and when they wanted it. Young people expect content to be on all platforms; mobile, computer and TV. They want it to be searchable and increasingly expect it to be supplied on demand through services such as Joost.
MTVN is producing global shows such as Meet or Delete in conjunction with HP, where content is available on mobile, TV and on computer, and programming was shot in different countries across North America, Europe and Asia. Another example of how this report is influencing programming is in MTVN’s partnership with Sony Ericsson to highlight new talent for the Europe Music Awards through online and mobile voting.
"Friends are becoming as important as brands because young people are so influential to one another, noted Fahey Rush. "A brand needs to be interesting enough to get people talking about it. A brand needs to be special. If not, it won’t be heard, and that’s what some brands get wrong," said Fahey Rush.
Vogt agreed. "Brands need to provide teens with content that they want to share. Their reward will be the loyalty of brand-savvy groups. Microsoft’s online campaign for Sony is a great example of using content to build loyalty across a youth audience. By announcing new film releases using a Messenger tab, Sony was able to provide content for teens that they then shared with peers across their networks, generating 8.4 million visits to the site," said Vogt.
Young people are not geeks
The Circuits of Cool and Digital Playground survey found that the "technology" itself is irrelevant to kids and young people. While kids use mobiles and the internet constantly, the survey found that only 20% of 14-24s actually loved technology, and they’re in developing nations such as Brazil, India and China. The people least interested in technology were the Danes and the Dutch — despite saying they couldn’t live without it.
"For kids and young people, ‘tech’ isn’t a separate entity now, it’s organic to their lives," said Fahey Rush. "They are completely focused on functionality."
Apart from a few key new media terms, most young people avoided industry jargon. Only 8% of those questioned used the term "multi-platform," and only 16% admitted to using the phrase "social networking." The terms they use most frequently are those relating to accessing content for free, like "download" and "burn." They also use brand names rather than category terms, with MSN, Google, and MySpace amongst the most popular. The term "web 2.0" is used by very few people (8%) outside China.
Young people also multi-task to a greater extent than adults. They still generally only do one thing at a time, but are able to have more stimuli coming at them and select the one that grabs them at that moment. Vogt commented: "Kids are very good at filtering the mass of information coming at them — dipping in and out of each."
Kids and teenagers the same as ever — only different
Circuits of Cool/Digital Playground found that what kids and teens do has not significantly changed in 15 years. For kids, they may be immersed in tech from the day they were born, but the things they enjoy doing most are watching TV (85%), listening to music (70%), hanging out with friends (68%), playing video games (67%) and spending time online (51%). As they grow into teens so the ranking of their favorite pastimes change. At the top of the list of 14- 24s favorite pastimes is listening to music (70%), followed by watching TV or hanging out with friends, both of which polled got 65%. Next came watching DVDs (60%), relaxing (60%), going to cinema (59%), spending time online (56%), spending time with girl or boyfriend (55%), eating (53%) and hanging out at home (49%).
"There is a powerful link between TV and the Internet, especially for 14- 24s. TV is watched to relieve stress. Sixty percent said they watched most of their TV lying down. But the Internet is cognitive and active, especially if young people are using it for studying or social situations," said Fahey Rush.
Kids still love good advertising. While the "best ad they’ve seen recently" is still overwhelmingly on TV, there is the opportunity for marketers to extend their digital advertising across the other technologies kids are engaged with, including IM and social networking sites, especially since 47% of youth IM each other about "what is on TV right now." "TV is not a background medium. TV is the only medium they use while not multitasking. Linear TV is great for introducing people to new things that they weren’t searching for in the first place," said Fahey Rush.
And for IM, the top topics for 14-24s were: gossiping (62%), making arrangements (57%), talking about the opposite sex (57%) and flirting (55%), work or school (54%) and TV and music (52%). "Given the amount of time young people are spending on instant messenger every day presents a very powerful opportunity for brands to connect with the youth audience. When on IM, teenagers are at their most engaged and interactive," said Vogt.