The truth about youth

The truth about youth

This study looks at the role of different video in young viewers’ lives and uncovers their media habits and motivations.

In Brief

Using a mixture of qualitative methods, we explored the role of different video in young people’s lives. Importantly, we wanted some understanding of whether current habits are likely to be due to life stage (and change in due course as today’s young people age), or whether behaviour is likely to carry through into older years.

Through observation and discussion with a wide range of 14-24 years olds we identified three interlinking aspects which have a significant influence on how younger people consume video, and the content choices they seek: ‘Time & Space’; ‘Identity’; and ‘Social Maintenance’.

Key Points

  • TV accounts for 65% of 16-24s’ video consumption
  • YouTube accounts for 7% of video time amongst 16-24s
  • Young people typically have limited control of the main TV set
  • ‘Boredom-busting’ is a key motivation for watching online video
  • Identity creation is a fundamental driver for content choice
  • Fear of missing out influences the video content that is sought and shared 

In Depth

Our video lives have become increasingly complex – particularly for young people.  They spend a staggering amount of time watching video; nearly three and a half hours per day on average.  Combined with the vast array of services available – from broadcast TV to YouTube to subscription services like Netflix, understanding this landscape and how it impacts on young people is hugely important.

The below chart draws (which draws on data from Ofcom, BARB, Comscore and the IPA) shows how the consumption of video for young people differs from the rest of the UK:

Total video consumptionTV viewing (live, playback and Broadcaster VOD services) dominates the video viewing of all ages; however 16-24s have a more varied video diet, with TV accounting for two thirds of their total video viewing compared to the UK average of 81%.

Whilst it’s great to know how young people are using video, this only tells a small part of the story.  We’re bombarded with the word ‘millennials’ – but this is a meaningless term for a diverse bunch.  Today’s 20 year old could be in education and living at home with mum or dad or they could be married and working full-time with a kid or two.  It’s fair to say that 14-24s are more influenced by age, education and lifestyle than any other group of people – and that this has an inevitable effect on the way they consume video.  And as we know from the above chart, they consume a lot of video.

By unpicking the impact that life-stage has on their media usage, we could start to understand what makes this group unique.  Are habits shifting for good or are young people doing the things they always have, but in different ways? And how does all of this pan out for advertising?

Platypus Research devised a compelling methodology to throw light on the changing video lives of young people.  Through a blend of qualitative techniques, including video ethnography, online communities and depth interviews, we discovered the factors that set this group apart and have made AV content an ingrained part of their lives and development. 

Time and Space

Unsurprisingly young people’s space is limited, but time is boundless, even though the perception often differs from the truth.  On the whole, younger people have more free time than most, but conversely, they tend to feel they are busier (a knock on effect of social media, which we’ll come to talk about later).

Boredom can be an issue – particularly for the 14-16s– and this creates a long viewing hierarchy that stretches from the inevitable boredom busting all the way up to total immersion. 

TV content plays across this whole spectrum.  It can act as a time-filler, it can help them relax and recover from life’s stresses and it’s often used as a reward for their daily efforts.  Broadcast linear content and VOD tends to sit higher up this spectrum, whereas online video most often sits at the opposite end as an easy and accessible way to kill some free time. 

Space is also a factor that influences how video slots into their lives.  Those living with their parents – and an increasing number of today’s young people aren’t flying the nest until their 20s  –  don’t typically command control of the main TV set.  Even in adult shared houses, there’s competition for the main screen and subsequently, a more collective approach ensues when deciding what to watch. The desire to consume content in their own space and without playing second fiddle to parents, siblings or friends, is a primary driver of viewing on secondary devices.  In fact, viewing via other devices is twice that of the average adult.

In addition, the home plays an increasingly important role in the lives of today’s adolescents.  Compared to previous generations, freedom is more constricteda as parents keep their children close.  There are also much stricter drinking laws and finances are generally tighter, which impacts on the freedoms of both teens and younger adults.   In many ways, staying in has become the new going out. Whether it’s cosy nights with loved ones around the TV or big nights in with a takeaway, some must-see programmes and a load of friends - or even a spot of ‘pre-loading’ -  the home plays a bigger role than ever in the lives of young people.


It comes as no surprise that identity creation is fundamental for this age group and a strong subconscious driver of behaviour, particularly when it comes to video, for this age group.  For the 14-16s, it’s about determining who they are and what they want to become.  As the years progress, the focus shifts to asserting independence, broadening horizons and experiencing new things. 

Media plays an essential role in this development and the need to seek out those of a similar age on-screen is particularly pronounced.  It’s one of the reasons why Hollyoaks has been going strong for over a decade and why reality shows such as TOWIE and Geordie Shore were constantly mentioned in the research.  Soaps and reality formed the crux of most of our respondents’ regular TV viewing.  Identity creation has also paved the way for vloggers to become part of the mainstream for this audeince. For 14-16s in particular, vloggers hit the sweet spot for satisfying this need.

The other element that sets this lot apart from other age groups is their desire to learn.  This isn’t just about pursuing interests, but about extending knowledge for a practical purpose; be that learning to cook, play the guitar or cracking the latest game.  Short-form content is a brilliant way of doing this.  Tutorials are rife on YouTube and of course, the need to learn is just one reason why vloggers – who tend to specialise in certain subjects - have become an ingrained part of young people’s video lives.  When it comes to education, TV takes a slightly different turn.  It tends to provide aspiration and direction; hence the ability of shows such as One Born Every Minute driving up applications for midwifery courses.

Social Maintenance

Whilst the need to connect socially is a fundamental to humans, it is one that is heightened for the young who are still establishing who they are and who they want to hang out with.  Investing time and effort into maintaining a social life and social presence is one of the reasons why today’s young people have an increased sense of ‘busy-ness’.   Social maintenance therefore falls into two areas:

Physical social maintenance

The need to share time and space with other people is just part of being human. TV has always played an important role in bringing people together, particularly in the home, as it provides a shared point of interest that is easily accessible.  It’s like supporting the same football team. This is hugely important for young people.  For the 14-16s living in the parental home, TV- particularly soaps, provides one of the few easy points of commonality with their parents and a solid reason to come together.  In shared households, it can unite the individual members whom may otherwise lead quite separate lives.

Virtual social maintenance

This is a newer phenomenon that has been turbo-charged by the rise of social media and sets this generation apart from those that have gone before. It helps explain why younger people in this study claimed to feel so short of time despite being so time rich.

Alongside having to maintain their profile in the real world, they have to be continually active in the virtual world, to maintain the persona they want to portray. The fear of missing out, or ‘FOMO’ as it’s called, helps drive this and has a significant influence on the video content they consume and the ways in which they consume it.  Facebook in increasingly being used as a way of filtering short-form content on YouTube and sharing clips amongst like-minded friends.  Conversely, sharing short form content and the latest YouTubers on Facebook can provide a level of kudos and currency amongst friends.

TV is an active part of virtual social maintenance.  Social media allows people to share the experience of watching their favourite shows online, bring the programmes they love to a wider audience and seek out relevant content.  TV and social networking are now intrinsically intertwined for this audience.

Young people and advertising

Younger people’s perceptions of advertising are broadly similar to the wider population, although they are generally more apathetic and brands have to work harder to inspire and entertain them.   Resonance is therefore imperative – much more so than relevance. 

Humour is disproportionately important to this age-group - they find funny, irreverent and entertaining ads the most appealing.  They are also more likely to favour advertising featuring personalities of a similar age that they can relate to.  Unsurprisingly, young people tend to be more rebellious and dislike being told what to do - the hard sell is an active turn-off and they shun overt social networking cues as they are more than capable of making those connections themselves.  TV is generally the medium they trust the most.

They claim to avoid advertising across all forms of media, yet are able to talk easily about their favourite ads, almost all of which are audio-visual ones - particularly those on TV. It’s important for advertisers to understand that although they might not be directly targeting young people, these are their future consumers and therefore building a brand rapport at an early age is a great way of gaining competitive advantage. 

In short, make them laugh, make an ad that resonates with them and let them figure out how they’d like to react. 

What next?

Predicting the future is always subjective and we generally try to avoid it, but there are some obvious indications from this research that suggests that the way young people view video now is not going to be set in stone for the rest of their lives.

Life-stage, not age, is by far the most crucial factor in video consumption – it’s inevitable that young people will eventually grow up. This may happen later than it did for previous generations, but eventually they will have their own space, more financial independence and their free time will become more limited.  Most people will eventually find themselves in full-time employment and many will settle down with partners and start families.  Their social circles will reduce as they move out of education, the need to connect with those their own age will lessen and ultimately, their relationship with video will stabilize.  

Of course, they’ll be more accustomed to filling their time with short-form content and they’ll be used to having a wealth of telly at their fingertips, but the role of video is driven by need.  Needs will shift as young people get older and technology will continue to change at an alarming pace and impact upon the way things are done.  But what young people do and how they do it, should reassuringly stay the same.

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