A new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, the first in a series of annual entertainment surveys, finds that a large majority of the 12- to 24-year-olds surveyed are bored with their entertainment choices some or most of the time, and a substantial minority think that even in a kajillion-channel universe, they don't have nearly enough options. "I feel bored like all the time, 'cause there is like nothing to do," said Shannon Carlson, 13, of Warren, Ohio, a respondent who has an array of gadgets, equipment and entertainment options at her disposal but can't ward off ennui.
For example, respondents say that traditional sources such as television advertising and radio airplay still tend to drive their decisions about movies and music more than online networking sites. Those interested in keeping up with current events report a surprising interest in conventional news sources, especially local TV news. And although many see their computers as a perfectly good place to watch a TV show or a movie, there does not appear to be widespread desire to take in, say, "Spider-Man 3" on their video iPods.
But there's little comfort here for movie theater owners. The multiplex isn't very popular either.
Even though 2006's box-office grosses are running 7% ahead of last year's, the poll found waning interest in seeing movies in theaters. Although the youngest teens say they're hitting the multiplex as often as ever, many young adults report that they're seeing fewer films in theaters. The main complaints are expensive tickets and concessions, but rude moviegoers and "bad movies" are factors too.
"It doesn't seem like there's anything good," says Emma Standring-Trueblood, a 16-year-old who is soon to start her junior year at Oak Park High School near Agoura Hills. "I'd say a good episode of 'The West Wing' is better than most of the stuff that gets out there."
A signature trait of those surveyed is a predilection for doing several things at the same time, with a majority of females in every age group and males from 15 to 17 and 21 to 24 saying they prefer to multi-task rather than to do one thing at a time.
Nathaniel Johnson, a 17-year-old senior at Claremont High School who took part in the survey, spoke for the 62% of boys in his age group who like to multi-task. He's a big fan of what the computer allows him to do: "You can open five or six programs simultaneously: work on a project, type a report, watch YouTube, check e-mail and watch a movie."
Unlike some of his peers, who report doing as many as four or five things simultaneously — such as homework, instant messaging, surfing the Net, talking on the phone and listening to music — Nathaniel discovered through trial and error that he could do only three things well at a time. "Generally," he said, "you feel overwhelmed at some point if you are trying to do too many things at once."
Like many others surveyed, Nathaniel rarely does his homework in a quiet environment. For him, homework and hard rock are inseparable. "Most people think it's horribly distracting," he said, "but I did get a 4.0 GPA." (A small number of the multi-taskers managed to fit in a video game too, but a great majority of young males who play video games — including 74% of younger teens — do not engage in other activities while doing so.)
Young people multi-task, they say, because they are too busy to do only one thing at a time, because they need something to do during commercials or, for most (including 64% of girls 12 to 14), it's boring to do just one thing at a time.
The poll, under the supervision of Los Angeles Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus, interviewed 839 teenagers (ages 12 to 17) and 811 young adults (18 to 24) from June 23 to July 3 using the Knowledge Networks' Web panel, which provides a representative sample of U.S. households. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for both age group samples.
Maybe it is part of the human condition that the young are bored, but some think that this generation — children of baby boomers, sometimes called millennials — has been spoiled by the sheer volume of entertainment and technology choices available.
"I think there is more media gratification that younger people feel entitled to," said Jordan Levin, who should know. Levin, a former chief executive of the WB network, was instrumental in developing the hit young adult shows "Felicity" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
Levin is now a partner in Generate, an entertainment company whose programs, thanks to an exclusive deal with MTV Networks, will be seen on television, cellphones and the Internet. Kids, Levin said, "have grown up in an environment where they expect to get what they want, where they want it, when they want it."
Throughout Hollywood, the race is on to develop entertainment that captures the attention of this distracted generation. The head of MTV Films just left to start a Viacom division that will make episodic shows for cellphones, iPods and computers. BitTorrent, once known as a top site for Internet pirates, has begun serving original — and lawfully shared — programming.
The studios also are looking to video games for artistic inspiration, which makes sense given the poll finding that 67% of boys ages 12 to 17 regularly play games on their computers. Among the game-inspired movies in the works: "Halo," "Hitman" and a sequel to "Resident Evil."
Some theater owners have taken notice of the huge teen demand for video games. National Amusements is renovating a theater to create a CyberZone video gaming site in Ypsilanti, Mich., which will offer nearly 80 PCs, PlayStations and Xboxes in an area adjacent to its movie screens.