I recall a conversation I had three years ago with an older colleague of mine. We both were working for a large media company and were debating the impact of digital media channels and potential displacement of traditional channels and skills. When I told him I was hoping to up skill my traditional media skills to join this digital revolution, he smirked and suggested I had already reached my expiry date and should just accept that it wasn’t possible for me to adapt to the changes technology heralded. He was resolute that the digital world belonged to those under the age of thirty, indeed the younger the better and we should all just accept this and step aside to make way for them.
Well as much as I valued his insight then I couldn’t bring myself to accept this rather ghastly media death sentence and started a process of equipping myself with as much technological knowledge my aging brain could take. Today, I’m proud of the fact that I’m a digital immigrant, albeit a learner one at that.
Certainly my colleague wasn’t wrong about those at the vanguard of the digital revolution. A recent report by Morgan Stanley in the UK on the media consumption habits of teenagers has put this firmly in perspective and caused quite a stir. We’ve had an inkling of some of these trends in South Africa in research conducted by Hot Dogz Inc and published in the Sunday Times early this year. However, when Morgan Stanley issues a report about how digital media is transforming consumer behaviour and traditional media business models, everyone takes note.
The author of the report is a 15-year-old Intern called Matthew Robinson. His observations include that teenagers are vociferous consumers of a wide variety of media, but will almost certainly not pay for any of it. They resent intrusive advertising, especially on TV, Internet and Billboards. Print media, particularly newspapers are irrelevant, they will willingly chase after content and music across platforms and devices and Events (concerts, cinemas etc) are popular and one of the very few media they will pay for. Convergence of Gaming TV, mobile and Internet is accelerating with huge implications for PayTV. These teenagers don’t listen to much Radio either, but occasionally tune in to it. Rather they stream music content from the Internet for free of course.
Mobile is key and price critical both in terms of handset and pay as you go packages and many teenagers prefer watching videos on YouTube displacing traditional forms of entertainment.
What’s hot to them is anything with a touch screen, mobile phones with large capacities for music, portable devices that can connect into the Internet (iphones) and really big television sets. They don’t like anything with wires, phones with black and white screens, chunky phones and devices with less than a ten-hour battery life.
While these trends haven’t necessarily surprised everyone, I’ve been privy to dialogue locally questioning the relevance of these findings to South Africa where traditional media still firmly dominates the consumer landscape and where the clear economic divide has resulted in a unique market duality. It has been argued this duality will slow the adaptation to technology by the mainstream market even the younger ones at that and these future challenges are still far off.
However, I don’t agree. Given the massive penetration of cellular technology in this country alone and the reliance of this fourth screen, the uptake of younger consumers will mirror those mentioned in the Morgan Stanley review and if anything in some instances be more accelerated by local media platforms such as MixIt which has provided youngsters with a cost efficient social networking environment unique to South Africa. Also we cannot underestimate the impact Seacom will have on more affordable broadband. Changes to our local television framework also point to convergence becoming a reality and not a fictional script from a sci-fi Soapie.
One thing is clear - consumers of the not too distant future will be very different from those of today. Remember that within the next seven years Matthew and millions others like him should be making a full-time contribution to the economy. Their experiences in the digital realm will have conditioned them to expect more and demand more. They will naturally want things to happen faster and as much as possible for free.
These digital natives will be able to morph and adapt with ease to technology changes, constantly presenting business with the challenge to meet their hungry demands. Businesses will be challenged to firstly find them, then to hold their attention, long enough to converse with them in a relevant manner in order to turn the exchange into a sale. Challenging indeed!