But of course that wasn’t true. They were the first generation to have access to the Internet, but they didn’t grow up with it. Instead, they were the first generation to grow up with cable. That’s similar to the way today’s 18- to 34-year-olds are not the first generation to grow up with video streaming — instead, they’re the first generation to grow up with VCRs and the concept of time-shifted viewing.
Having access to something is far different from growing up with it, which means not having the previous iteration as a base of comparison. The way my 17-year-old son uses and relates to his smartphone will forever be different from the way I do, because he grew up with it and I did not. It is second nature to him, but fourth or fifth nature to me.
Generations are ordinarily thought of in 18-year increments. Baby Boomers, for example, were born between 1946 and 1964, and generally have similar media habits. Most people in previous generations had similar access to the same distribution system, channels, programs, and devices.
However, we are now living in a media world where everyone doesn’t get everything anymore. The home VCR was the fastest-growing electronic device since the advent of television. Not so the DVR. Age groups are no longer as cohesive as they once were based on where, when, or how they can watch video content. As more change occurs, the number of years making up each subsequent media generation has decreased.
Here is how I would break out the Media Generations (the standard age-based generations are in parenthesis).
Born before 1950: The Pre-TV Generation (Silent Generation is 1927-1945) -- Grew up with few choices, no remote control, no end-user technology. One TV per household, with families gathered around the console TV set. Portable small-screen TV was the new technology.
Born 1950-1975: The TV Generation (combines Baby Boomers – 1946-1964 and Gen X – 1965-1980) -- Grew up with one screen, few choices, programmer/network control. Families still watched television together. Remote control was the new technology.
U.S. penetration: Television: 50% in 1954, 97% in 1975; Cable: 12% in 1975, 43% in 1985.
In 1970, 65% of homes had only one TV set.
Born 1976-1995: The Multichannel Generation (Millennials, 1981-2000) -- Grew up with cable, more viewing choices, remote control, but still mostly one screen. The VCR was the new technology.
U.S. penetration: Cable: 56% in 1990, 85% in 2005; VCRs: 14% in 1985, 90% in 2005.
Born 1996-2010: The Multiplatform Generation (Generation Z, born after 2001) -- Grew up with DVRs, video streaming, HDTV, smartphones, Netflix, Hulu, multi-media devices. Original scripted series no longer exclusive to broadcast TV. DVRs and multimedia devices were the new technology.
U.S. penetration: DVRs: 20% in 2008, 50% in 2015; SVOD: 41% in 2014, 48% in 2015; Internet at home: 18% in 1997, 50% in 2001, 75% in 2010; Broadband: 33% in 2005, 67% in 2015; Smartphones: 36% in 2011, 76% in 2015.
Born after 2010: The Mobile Generation -- Will grow up watching what they want, when they want, where they want. TV Everywhere means this generation makes no distinction between broadcast, cable, SVOD, or OTT. Content means everything, distribution source or screen means little.
These last two generations are the first to gain access to new technology that will not be fully embraced by previous generations. Half the country has DVRs, while half does not. Half have SVOD, while half do not. Half will eventually have multimedia devices, while half may never get them. This is creating a whole range of new challenges for marketers, advertisers, and researchers.