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Social consumers, smartphone users, short-form viewers: Teenagers and online video

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Last month Ofcom published the findings of it’s Childrens Digital Day research. I’ve taken a look at the report and used the data it presents to explore some of the key points around TV and online video viewing among teenagers.

teenager on phone

Image by Sara Cimino

1. Teenagers are the biggest consumers of online video clips. They watch an average of 35 minutes worth of online video content per day on sites such as YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook, nearly 30 minutes more than adults.

In terms of traditional TV, teenagers are watching half the amount that adults watch. Although the TV set still dominates teenagers’ evening activity, it accounts for only half of the three hours 11-15-year-olds spend watching content. 78% of the teenagers watch TV at least once a week, significantly less than the 94% of adults who tune in on a weekly basis.

teenage vs adult online video viewing

2. Teenagers are social consumers of online video. According to Ofcom’s report, short form online video account for nearly a fifth of their weekly viewing activities. Teenagers watch, discover and experience this short form video through networks of social media sharing and commenting, as digital youth researcher Sonja Baumer describes (her research is summarised in the excellent 'Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out'). The authors of 'Hanging Out' argue that easy access to such media brings video into teenagers’ everyday social activities, making it a valuable part of teenagers’ communication and identity construction. This is increasingly relevant when you consider that...

3. The smartphone is a teenager’s main device. While TV still dominates the evenings, the smartphone is the device teenagers use most consistently throughout the day, and reaches 67% of all 11-15-year-olds each week, according to Ofcom’s report. Whilst teenagers mainly use their smartphone for communication, it may also become their main device for consuming short-form content. Figures from YouTube show that 40% of viewing worldwide is on a mobile device, and Ooyala’s latest Global Video Index shows that mobile and tablet devices now account for nearly a third of all online video plays. Additionally, figures from Ofcom’s own research on children’s attitudes to digital media show that, while laptops and computers still dominate, over a quarter say they now watch short online video clips on mobile, and for nearly 1 in 5 it is the main device for doing so.

4. Teenagers are multi-screening multi-taskers. According to Ofcom’s report, 11-15-year-olds cram 9½ hours of digital media activities in an average of just seven hours of media activity per day. This means that teenagers are engaging in some media activities simultaneously. This is nothing new, earlier this year The Telegraph reported that two-thirds of teenagers use a mobile or tablet whilst watching TV. The key is knowing what they’re doing on the second screen. Although the Telegraph article highlights GlobalWebIndex’s Jason Mander’s suggestion that the second screen may not necessarily be supporting TV itself, some research has shown that TV content may prompt second screen activities. Google’s 2012 multi-screen report and research by Randall Lewis and David Reiley (2013) both show a link between TV content and online searches. For teenagers, who use the smartphone as an important communication tool, social interactions may be a key part of their second screen activities. The TV and online video content they are watching may act as a prompt for this and become the subject of their conversations.

multi-screen sharing

5. Teenagers look to engage in an authentic experience with content. Expert in online youth culture, danah boyd, argues that that technology provides teenagers with an important opportunity to develop their social relationships, meaning that any attempt to enter this space must be carefully negotiated. Teenagers, she argues, are like adults in that they are more open to information when they are looking for it, or when it fits into their existing activities, than when it is being disruptive. Addressing how marketers can appeal to teenagers, boyd claims that “branding and being recognized as a brand is a lot about being an authentic participant in those spaces.” An example can be found in Naomi Kleine’s No Logo, in which Kleine highlights how hip-hop artists Run DMC single My Adidas created authentic sense of cool among wearers of Adidas trainers. This has implications for content providers trying to reach a teenage audience. While online video can provide a space for teenagers to develop their social relations, it is important to avoid being disruptive in this space.

So what are the implications of this?

Teeangers are big consumers of online video, and are highly social and creative in how they use and engage with the web. This has the potential to drive online video views.

Popular videos attain a level of social proof which elevates them and increases their popularity, as themselves viewers become part of the experience of the video.

As YouTube’s Kevin Allocca explains, participation has become one of the key factors behind videos going viral. While Allocca highlights examples of popular video remixes, users can also participate simply by sharing and commenting on videos. For teenagers, who value the social participation offered by new media, this adds meaning and significance to the content and the experience.

Understanding the ways in which teenagers share content and create conversations around it, and the value they get from those activities is essential to creating products which resonate with them in meaningful ways.

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