Is There A Generation Gap In Media?

We’ve all heard about “generation gaps’ where there are completely different perspectives and attitudes on a range of subjects based on one’s age and place in the society. The biggest generation gaps occur during periods of great transformation where protocols of the past seem out of sync to current problems.

Because of the great transformation going on in the media industry today we wondered if there was a “generation gap” as to the future trends within our industry. Do those who have been working in media since pre-cable days (Those with more than 25 years of media experience) have different ideas of how the media industry will evolve compared to those with approximately 5 years of media experience who came of age with devices such as tablets and smartphones? We polled both groups “More than 25” and “Less than 5” by asking the same questions to see if there is indeed a media generation gap.

Who are “we”? Charlene Weisler is a strategist with over 25 years of research experience from broadcast (when there were only three broadcast networks) to cable to off-platform and set top box data. Robert Mercier is a media research professional and a student at NYU.

The questions were:
1.     How do you think the media marketplace will look in 5 years?
2.     How will viewers view content?
3.     What will the sales model look like for buying and measuring media?

Our respondents work in diverse areas and platforms - research, marketing and sales at agencies, content providers and suppliers. This is by no means a definitive sample but rather a cross section that may suggest further study.

Executive Summary:
1.     Rate of Change: The greatest difference between Less than 5 and More than 25 was in assessing the rate of change. Those who grew up with the Internet see much more rapid and transformational change than those in the More than 25 group who have “seen it all” and believe that there are entrenched metrics and operations that are difficult to change in the industry. Yet there were many in the "More than 25" group who see the merging of platforms through such advancements as Connected TV as pushing the rate of change forward.

2.     Span of Change: There was also a difference on the type of change. While the Less Than 5 group focused on social media and cross-platform issues, the More Than 25 group had a more expansive outlook that spanned issues beyond social media and cross platform. 

3.     Degree of Change: The Less Than 5 group was more consistent in its belief we will see many changes in the next five years, while those in the More Than 25 group differed in their opinions. Some believed there would be little overall change and others saw great  change within the same time span.

4.     Top Medium: While the Less Than 5 group sees mobile and social media as the future preeminent force in media, many in the More Than 25 group believe TV will continue its dominant place in the media landscape.

5.     Impact of Social Media: Because the Less Than 5s have grown up with computers and their resulting technology, they tend to believe social media is the central force in the new media landscape. The More Than 25s see social media in partnership with, or even as a secondary driver to, television.

6.     Impact of Mobile Media: Increasingly, mobile is becoming the Less Than 5 group’s media consumption mode of choice. This was not as strongly expressed by the More Than 25s.

7.     Targeting: Both groups saw the impact and benefit of the increasingly interactive aspect of media. Both saw the communication process being more highly targeted and one-to-one, volleying back and forth from sender to receiver. Marketing efforts will talk to a “person” or a “custom segmentation” rather than to a demographic or generic group.

For those who have been in the industry more than 25 years, many grew up with black-and-white television with no remote control. There were three broadcast networks, local and independent stations and maybe some smaller UHF channels. This group has been around to see black-and-white turn to color, followed by the advent of DVRs and VOD to advance viewer enjoyment and ease. They have crossed the digital Rubicon to cross-platform -- computers, tablets and mobile -- while still being able to recall the days when rotary phones were the norm. They have seen the evolution from both the consumer and the industry perspectives.

For those with less than 5 years media experience, the digital age shaped many of their early beliefs about the future. Take for example the youngest interviewee, born in 1989; She was in elementary school when the Internet started to blossom, in middle school during the rise of search, in high school as user-generated content was on the ascent and in college during the explosion of social media. Activities of the digital age are second-nature to this generation, so their view on the future is shaped by these experiences.

Our Questions
How do you think the media marketplace will look in five years?

For the Less Than 5s, the dominant theme was the continued influence of the Internet, in general, and social media, specifically. There was a difference in opinion over the “dominance” of TV, but all agreed the power of the Internet was on the rise. The Internet, via the computer, but increasingly over mobile devices, was the major supplier of content to these “two screens.”  This being said, cross-platform integration was another strong theme. Integrating the buying and selling through all three screens -- television, computers and mobile -- was seen as needed. Finally, agencies will consolidate their buying across “silos” looking for value across these platforms. Platforms such as magazines and radio are an afterthought, except for providing marginal impression efficiencies to the three screens and the branding efforts of main corporations i.e. ESPN, Viacom, CBS, et al. 

For the More Than 25s there was less consensus about the media marketplace. Realizing that the industry moves slowly, even glacially, some in this group believe that there may not be as much change in the market in five years as we might think. But evolution will continue with new technology impacting the viewing experience and with the proliferation of new data streams from cross platform. Those with an agency perspective think there will be a continued shift in ad spend to digital media (online, tablets, social, mobile), a continued erosion of traditional media (magazines, newspapers, radio) and multiple currencies in place for some media; in particular, set-top box data will be incorporated as currency for TV buying and selling. Those from the cable and print world believe everything will be more fluid and less siloed as sellers sell brands and branded content. However, not all the boundaries will vanish across media because there are experiential differences between media platforms. Those in the more cutting-edge areas of research think the media world will be significantly different in five years. They say the proliferation of technology and media distribution strategies will cultivate a less passive consumer experience through micro-targeting and interactivity for content and advertising. Connected, cloud-accessing devices will drive ease of use and interaction on portable and fixed screens, making it convenient to watch anywhere and anytime.

How will viewers view content?
For the Less Than 5s it comes down to mobile. They expect mobile to “soar.” With the increasing computing power and the portability and ease of use of mobile devices, this generation believes mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets will be everywhere. They will be used to stream content from the Internet and consume media anywhere. They think content providers will need to offer their wares on all relevant platforms and there will be continued growth of services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon on Demand and the like. Again, the influence of social media will be felt as the devices will be used to keep in contact with one other and media providers. 

More Than 25s have a more sanguine view of how content will be consumed. Having lived through media “scares” like DVRs heralding in the end of commercial television, they generally believe viewers will continue to seek the best available screen first. And the best screen is often the larger television screen, not the small mobile screen. Convenience will drive viewing toward smaller screens such as tablets, but the demise of the big-screen TV is exaggerated. However, because of connected TV, there will be more opportunity to view online content on various screens that are portable and viewable at will. Viewers will be able to view content 'everywhere,’ and there will be more pay-per-viewing and VOD usage but advertising will still provide the chief form of subsidy for media content. The experience will be more personalized -- for content and ads, the latter through addressable advertising, to send different ads to different consumer targets based on their characteristics or stated preferences. Television will be a platform -- a launch pad if you will -- for the promotion and aggregation of programming that will live-on through over-the-top platforms.  

What will the sales model look like for buying and measuring media?
This was a tough question to answer for those in the Less than 5 group. At this stage of their career, a total framework of the media ecosystem was lacking, thus strong opinions were crafted from the point of view of what would be done “If I were in charge.” Nevertheless, the same issues came up such as how to “use social media to engage consumers.” The ability to use social media was key because as one in the The Less Than 5 group stated “It's a direct conversation and I don't see the old way of communication ever coming back.” In addition, they thought cross platform would be the major component of the new model, as media agency planners and buyers would be aligned to plan, buy, track and optimize across media. In addition, this group felt targeting would become more important. “Wasted impressions” would need to be greatly reduced, as social media affords the advertiser an opportunity to have a one-to-one conversation. Also, partnerships that create verticals between mobile operators, manufacturers and app providers were thought to able to leverage data. For this group, the ability to measure consumption was a major concern as well. Finally, it is interesting to note that the issue of how all the services will be paid for never came up. The content they view appears without thought of how this works within the larger framework of the “business model.” However, as noted, this may be a function of the lack of experience in the industry.

Those in the More Than 25 group were in general agreement that the bedrock of the standard sales model will still be “sample-based ratings,” but perhaps with cross- media capabilities and the addition of new big data such as set-top box data. STB data, portable people meters and interactive data will enable content measurement to become more passive.  Syndicated cross-media/cross-platform tools will be available to allow buyers and sellers to compare and combine data streams based on common metrics of audience and ad effectiveness. Many hoped that performance-based metrics (e.g. ratings among homes that actually buy the product) will finally begin to displace metrics based on artificial demo groupings (age and sex), despite buyer resistance.  Some believe sensory and biometric recognition technology will be introduced as a passive- measurement component.  Lastly, some in the More Than 25 group believe there will be a merging or a re-engagement of traditional and digital media companies.   

The Conclusion:
Is there a generation gap in media? The degree of difference is surprisingly small, given the expertise, insight and life experiences of the two groups. The two groups share many assessments but it is clear that there are points of differences that will propel radical changes in platform importance and measurement as one generation hands off responsibility to the next. 

Whether it is the experience of the More than 25s having lived through the “future shocks” of the past or the unbridled optimism and youthfulness of the Less Than 5s, the upshot is that both generations must work in tandem to construct a strong business model for an industry embroiled in change. Whether it will be “business as usual” or an entirely new framework remains to be seen.

Study Details:

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