Commentary

It's Your Media Generation That Defines You

I remember in the late-1990s, when the online world was still new, and labeling generations beyond Baby Boomers was becoming a thing.  At the time, the press and many media industry folks were fond of saying that 18- to 34-year-olds were the first generation to grow up with the Internet.

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.

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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.

9 comments about "It's Your Media Generation That Defines You ".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, January 4, 2017 at 3:14 p.m.

    Very interesting. I'm an outlier within the TV Generation. Not everyone's media habits are "defined" by their generation. Sometimes we adapt and learn to prefer the new methods. I never watch scheduled programs anymore, which is odd because my job in the 1970s and 1980s was scheduling TV programs for an NBC affiliate. I get my news from my phone, not the TV. But I'll admit I'm hardly typical of my age group. I enjoyed your analysis but question the word "define" in the headline.

  2. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report replied, January 4, 2017 at 3:30 p.m.

    I originally had (sort of) in parenthesis at the end, but I thought this might spur more discussion.

  3. Frank Newcomer from Dystopian Empire replied, January 4, 2017 at 9 p.m.

    CofC grad myself, 1975

  4. Robert Barrows from R.M. Barrows, Inc. Advertising & Public Relations, January 4, 2017 at 3:33 p.m.

    For TV Everywhere, even from beyond the grave... Check out a video tombstone I invented called the Video Enhanced Gravemarker (U.S. Patent # 7,089,495).

    What kinds of things would you record for your video tombstone if you knew you were going to check out today...and would it be truth or lies?

  5. Linda Moskal from WNPV Radio replied, January 5, 2017 at 11:17 a.m.

    I think it would depend on whether I was in politics or not.

  6. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 4, 2017 at 4:16 p.m.

    Steve, I've been around a long time, so if I were in tune with my generation and this predicted my media behavior, I should be a frequent viewer of primetime and other broadcast network TV fare, but a light user of digital media. Actually, the reverse is true. My consumption of broadcast TV---except for research purposes---has declined to less than a fifth of what it was and my cable exposure is also down---but not nearly as much. Instead, I spend much more of my time on my PC and now, on a newly obtained tablet, and much of the content I now consume is basically informtional in nature, not entertainment oriented. My point is that while there are always going to be generationally imposed mental templates as to media and other preferences, the availability of so many communications alternatives---mainly via online platforms or venues---has broken through the generational barriers and freed many of us----no matter how old we happen to be----from stereotyped behaviour, either as media consumers or as marketing prospects---or, for that matter, as human beings.

  7. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report, January 4, 2017 at 4:35 p.m.

    Hi Ed-

    My major point was not that the media you grow up with is the media that you use most often for the rest of your life. Rather it will impact how you relate to and use media and devices that you didn't grow up with. And while previous generations eventually got everything, that is no longer the case. 

  8. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 4, 2017 at 4:59 p.m.

    Steve, I get your point, however I do believe that the implication is there ---and many believe it---namely that the older generations are hide bound and slow to adapt to "new" things. Which was really my point. Otherwise, I wonder if it is true that a person born in, say, 1940, got everything they wanted from media during their formative years. As it happens, there was much less media to consume in those days and a typical adult spent something like 2-3 hours a day with radio and another hour with print media---perhaps a tad more. And that was it---except for a weekly visit to the local movie house. Today's adult ---if we believe the research---devotes around 10 hours per day to the media, so it is indeed a totally different world both as to the availability of options and our use of them. The result is that loyalty to a limited number of favored media has eroded significantly for all age groups; now, many of us sample many media as a matter of course, not neccessarily our generational preconditioning. That, of course, is just my humble opinion and it may well be that in our own way, we are both saying the same thing.

  9. Jennifer Jarratt from Leading Futurists, LLC, January 5, 2017 at 6:31 p.m.

    Bit glib, maybe? Old folks spent more of their time with other media, heyday of magazines, print media, radio, movies, etc. Some of that has all but disappeared with current generations.

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