Let's start with television. While traditional consumption via a television set remains the most common mechanism by which Gen Y consumes TV programming, they are rapidly adopting online technologies that feed their insatiable entertainment appetites. In our recent report on Gen Y's use of technology, we discovered via a nationally representative survey of 1,300 teens and collegians that, in the prior week, nearly one in four members of Gen Y watched video content that was streamed to a computer, one in seven downloaded video content to a computer and one in 20 watched video content that was streamed to their mobile phones.
On average, Gen Y spends nearly three hours a week watching streamed TV programs, and an hour and a half a week watching downloaded TV programs. Gen Y streams and downloads video from a variety of locations: they are nearly as likely to do so at home as they are at a friend's house. That is the essence of online video: students want to watch it when they stumble across it, no matter where they are. And they want to share it with friends by pulling up videos when they're hanging out, as well as by sharing links via Facebook.
Gen Y most commonly streams full-length, professionally produced videos, such as movies and TV shows, with music videos not far behind. College students watch a wider diversity of content than teens, with most checking out news clips, commercials, sports, and political videos in addition to long-form movies and TV shows.
Growing up doesn't mean giving up cartoons -- a majority of high school and college students watch them online. In fact, among boys, streaming animation increases during their college years, while it declines among girls. This is connected to how the genders define themselves as "adults"; boys don't feel any less adult for watching cartoons and playing videogames.
Streaming music is as common a practice as streaming video, with Gen Y spending an average of two hours and 40 minutes a week listening to streaming radio stations. Services such as Pandora and Spotify give users access to hundreds of thousands of songs at their fingertips. Traditional terrestrial radio still accounts for the lion's share of radio listening at a little over four hours a week, however, Gen Y spends just one half-hour less streaming feeds from traditional radio stations and online-only stations combined.
Looking at the impact of digital consumption on the music industry, sales are declining not only due to piracy, but also due to consumption via streaming services that allow users to custom create music channels. Only one in five of teens and collegians are buying more music than they did a year ago, compared to two out of five who are buying less and two out of five who are buying the same amount.
Two-thirds of Gen Y download music from the Web, whether legally or illegally. College boys are the least likely to download music, but that may be because they are spending more time following college sports and going out. The most common reasons students say they don't download music is that it costs too much or they can't afford it, suggesting that their first inclination is to obtain it legally. (We should also note that Gen Y is the generation that is most comfortable with the idea of paying a fee for digital content.)
More than a quarter don't download because they are concerned about security on their computer, which is a common problem with file sharing services that are riddled with viruses and malware. A similar proportion is concerned about being sued.
The trend towards cloud-based, on-demand digital media shifts the locus of control from the producer to the consumer. Having grown up immersed in digital media, Gen Y will lead this shift. Producers of entertainment (as well as all those who advertise, sponsor or otherwise participate in the entertainment ecosystem) should begin their transition strategies with Gen Y at the center of their digital universe, studying their preferences and behaviors and developing services that align with, rather than buck how, where and why they want to consume.
In all honesty, watching the digital media revolution has been pretty ugly to date, with lawsuits and forced-fit solutions being more numerous than intelligent and practical ones. As Gen Y steadily infiltrates the media industry, we're sure to see things fall into better alignment as this generation intuitively satisfies the needs of the digital media consumer.