Despite all the talk about “digital natives”, “millennials”, “generation X, Y, Z” and all the other buzzwords most media execs use to describe those younger than themselves, many still underestimate quite how much media consumption habits differ between generations.

But there’s a growing wealth of data that shows how the way young people interact with content, technology and advertising is out of sync with older generations. Here’s a roundup of some of the differences in the way the young consume media.

1. More promiscuous

Talking about media consumption not sex, this is one of the biggest trends threatening traditional media brands. Under-24s care a lot less about where they get their news from. As was clear from the recent Retuers Institute Digital News Report the traditional attachment to a particular newspaper brand is fading fast, and while younger consumers are similarly into search to find their news as other age groups are, they are much, much keener on social.


2. Less print, (much) more digital 

There’s no surprise here, but again the scale of the shift should be noted. Younger people are abandoning print and spending much of their time on the web. 


The trend is even more marked when you zero in on news media consumption, as this study from Pew shows:

Pew source of news

3. They use lots of different devices

As this US study recently demonstrated, younger people are much more likely to use more than one device at the same time (the graph compares the proportion of multitaskers that sit in each age range to the proportion of the total population they account for).


4. Smartphones are more important than tablets

All that investment in tablet apps – that belief that big screen formats could save magazines and drive newspaper subscriptions – may be missing the mark. Sure, older generations like having a screen that is more similar in size to a television or desktop monitor, but younger people are perfectly happy consuming their media on smaller devices.

This is again particularly clear when it comes to news, as demonstrated by the Reuters Digital News Report:

Main device for accessing news by age 

This disparity could be down to the higher rate of tablet ownership among older generations. However, younger people are getting used to consuming news on smartphones, potentially making attempts to make more print-like experiences on tablets obsolete for these consumers.

5. And they love video, but different kinds of video…

Across the board, younger people are more active consumers of online video. But they are also showing a greater enthusiasm for particular kinds of video, such as music videos and user generated content.

The graph below provides a good example of this, though the broad age range defined as millennials (18 to 34) will mask greater differences for the younger part of this cohort.

Infographic: Age Matters in Online Video Consumption | Statista 

Not just channels, but behaviours

This isn’t just  about a generation of consumers in their late teens and 20s consuming media through different channels, though that is important enough when it comes to thinking about where you should be putting your time and resources. It’s also about how these consumers are interacting with media.

It’s not just web vs print, it’s media brands vs what your friends recommend. It’s not just video vs text, it’s user generated content vs broadcast-quality TV. 

This group is, for the moment, a relatively small segment of the population. Focusing on where the majority of the audience is now will keep many a media business afloat for a while. 

But give it 10 years and the proportion of your consumers who have formed very different habits will be a lot larger, and they’ll also be the segment of the population with a bigger share of disposable income. Getting ready for that shift should be a priority.

(The data here is a useful guide, but there are also some big problems with the way we are looking at youth audiences, which we’ve written about here.)

Image via Garry Knight used under a Creative Commons license.