No Big Demand for Small Screen
Before Kaitlyn Brown headed to church camp this summer, her mother outfitted the 13-year-old with a sleek new Sprint phone that boasts one of the newest features on the market: mobile television.
“Me and my mom thought it would be a cool thing,” said the soon-to-be seventh-grader, who lives in Spring Branch, Texas. But after watching a couple of jerky transmissions of comedy clips on the phone’s display panel, Brown quickly became disenchanted.
“It kept stopping midstream and stuff,” she said. “I didn’t really like it, so I took it off. It was extra money, and I didn’t think it was worth it.”
She’s not alone.
Entertainment purveyors may be scrambling to package their content into mobisodes, video downloads and podcasts, but a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found that teens and young adults -- the generation most likely to be the early adopters of this new technology -- have yet to fully embrace it.
About half of young adults and 4 in 10 teenagers said they were uninterested in watching television shows or movies on computers, cellphones or hand-held devices such as video iPods, the poll found.
While more than 2 out of 5 teens and young adults indicated they were open to viewing this kind of content online, only 14% of teenagers said they wanted to watch television on a cellphone, and 17% said they would view programs on an iPod.
The findings suggest that networks are rushing to package content for these new platforms before even tech-savvy young consumers are hankering for the “third screen” experience.
The survey, which asked a wide range of questions about entertainment consumption, highlighted the pervasive influence of television particularly on tween girls, a majority of whom reported that TV shows affected their dress, speech, music preferences or social activities. In addition, it found that a surprisingly high number of teenagers and young adults gleaned news from traditional media sources such as local television and network newscasts -- for many through a sort of information osmosis as they absorbed news from programs their parents were watching.
Perhaps most intriguing, however, was the indication of a widespread indifference toward small-screen viewing among teenagers and young adults. While many in the industry expect the demand for such content to rise dramatically in the coming years, the poll offered clues to a consumer reluctance that first must be overcome.
In follow-up interviews with those surveyed, many young people said they were intrigued by the notion of getting their entertainment on devices such as cellphones and iPods. But two major obstacles have so far dampened their enthusiasm: the cost and the uneven quality of the experience.
“It just seems like a needless expense to me,” said Mark Lopez, a 23-year-old political science major at Cal State Fullerton. “And I would think it would be grainy and not as clear of a picture. My choice would be to watch something first on TV, or TiVo it.”
Steven Jagodzinski, a 21-year-old computer science student in Baltimore, is a fan of cartoons such as “South Park,” which would seem a natural fit for mobile viewing. But he said the idea seemed “pointless.”
“Why would I want to look at a video clip on my cellphone?” he said. “I’d rather make phone calls on it.”
Young people aren’t alone in their slow embrace of the small screen. Recent studies by several independent research firms indicate that only about 1% to 3% of mobile phone subscribers currently watch videos on their phones.
But media executives are confident that the appetite will increase once the technology improves and the price for hand-held devices drops. They note that while young people may be reluctant to watch full-length feature films or even 22-minute television shows on small screens, they may be more interested in viewing short clips, a kind of “snack TV.”
That’s why the major entertainment companies are developing a slew of original content for the third screen.
“If you look across the media companies, digital generally represents about 5% of their revenue and 50% of the questions on their quarterly earnings calls,” said George Kliavkoff, who last week was appointed NBC Universal’s first chief digital officer. “The reason is the future of connecting with customers is going to be figuring out the ways to give them what they want, on the devices they want, when they want it.”
Interestingly, 12- to 14-year-old girls showed the greatest eagerness about small-screen viewing, with 20% of those surveyed open to watching television shows on cellphones and nearly a quarter interested in checking out programs on iPods.
“I think it’s really cool and I would love to have it,” said 14-year-old Katie Stears of Jamestown, Ky., who has pleaded with her parents for a video iPod. “You don’t have to always be at home to watch TV.”
Television clearly has a strong hold on teenagers, who spend a substantial amount of time glued to the screen. About two-thirds report that they watch two hours of television or more on an average weekday, with nearly a quarter watching for more than four hours.
Teen girls ages 12 to 14 appear to be the most affected by what they’re seeing. Almost two-thirds reported that television has influenced their behavior in some way, whether it’s how they talk, what they wear or what they buy. For many -- especially teen girls 12 to 14 -- the popular shows such as MTV’s “The Hills” provide a universal lingo.
Brittany Thornton, a 14-year-old in Screven, Ga., said that she and her friends buy the kind of logo shirts they see teenagers wearing on shows such as MTV’s “Laguna Beach” and sprinkle their conversation with phrases like “freakin’ idiot” made popular by fictional Idaho high school student Napoleon Dynamite.
Kids who aren’t familiar with the lexicon of the shows are “not on top of the pyramid” at school, she added.
So what would happen if she could no longer watch television?
Thornton sounded anguished just contemplating that prospect: “I would be devastated.”
For their part, a large share of young adults appear to be turning to broadcast television for their news. According to the poll, 38% said they got their best information about current events from local newscasts and 19% said it came from broadcast network news.
Despite the widespread belief that a sizable number of young people get their news from satirical programs such as Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” just 3% of teenagers and 6% of young adults surveyed said that’s how they found out about current events.
In follow-up interviews, many indicated that their news viewing habits flowed out of their entertainment choices.
Laurel Miller, a 23-year-old medical student at USC, said she usually ended up watching the 10 p.m. newscast on Fox affiliate KTTV Channel 11 because it came on after she’d watched shows such as “24.”
“I like staying current about what’s going on around me,” said Miller, who lives in Alhambra. “My mom reads the newspaper every morning, so I learned from her.”
Anchorage resident Rhen David Belz, 18, said he tuned into the local news every night, right before he caught a rerun of “Seinfeld.”
“I’ve watched the news ever since I was a little kid,” said Belz, who runs the machines at a plant that manufactures Styrofoam blocks. “I would feel a little disconnected if I didn’t.”
But Belz said that he thought he was “somewhat unusual.”
“A lot of my friends don’t follow the news at all,” he said. “They have no idea what’s going on, and they like it that way.”
Indeed, young adults still make up a small fraction of the local television news audience in many markets. In Los Angeles, just about 4% of the 2 million people who tuned into local evening and late night news in May were 18 to 24, according to Nielsen Media Research. In Chicago, the share of young adults was just 2%. But local newscasts preceded by programs that appeal to young viewers definitely reap the benefits. Almost 10% of KTTV’s audience and 8.5% of the viewership of Fox affiliate WFLD in Chicago were ages 18 to 24 in May, when young viewers flocked to the finales of popular shows such as “American Idol.”
Jose Rios, KTTV’s vice president of news, said the newscast works to hold on to those viewers.
“In part because we have programming that brings us that audience, sometimes the focus of our story is on their perspective,” Rios said. “If fees go up at the University of California, we’ll do, ‘Hey, what this means to you.’ ”
Even many teenagers appear to pick up on news through traditional newscasts. Almost 30% of the 12- to 17-year-olds said that local television news was their best source of information about current events, with an additional 16% choosing network news.
In interviews, though, more than half a dozen teens said they didn’t actively seek out the newscasts -- they’re simply exposed to them because their parents or other relatives have the programs on at home. Still, even if they aren’t actively engaged in watching the broadcasts, many seem to absorb the news through a sort of information osmosis.
“Some of the reports can be interesting,” said 12-year-old Megan Casper of Idaho Falls, Idaho, who said her mother usually turned on the news in the evening. “It’s kind of cool to be able to figure out, like, some of the things going on in different countries.”
That’s not to say that many teens are turning into news junkies.
“I think our generation thinks watching the news is dorky and not a lot of fun,” said 14-year-old Casey Hankins of Lakewood, Colo., who said he only catches news programs every few weeks when he’s visiting his grandfather, a regular viewer.
But Hankins admitted he probably would grow more interested as he got older.
“I think I’ll want to know more stuff then,” he said.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Small screens don’t rule
Younger eyes prefer larger screens.
Q: On which of the following devices would you want to watch a movie? (Multiple answers allowed.)
Video iPod or similar device: 18%
I would not want to watch a movie on any of the above screens: 38%
Video iPod or similar device: 9%
I would not want to watch a movie on any of the above screens: 48%
Q: On which of the following devices would you want to watch a TV show? (Multiple answers allowed.)
Video iPod or similar device: 17%
I would not want to watch a movie on any of the above screens: 43%
Video iPod or similar device: 7%
I would not want to watch a movie on any of the above screens: 51%
Q: Has a television show or network ever influenced your behavior in any of the following ways? (Multiple answers allowed.)
*--* Ages 12-14 Ages 15-17 Ages Male Female Male Female In the way I dress 14% 34% 16% 23% In the way I talk, such as different words and 31% 40% 25% 26% phrases What music I listen to 21% 41% 19% 32% What social activities I take part in 9% 10% 7% 6% What products I use 17% 26% 14% 25% Some other way 4% 1% 2% 4% TV has not influenced me in doing any of these things 49% 35% 58% 44%
*--* Ages 18-20 Ages 21-24 Ages Male Female Male Female In the way I dress 5% 25% 12% 14% In the way I talk, such as different words and 24% 22% 19% 13% phrases What music I listen to 14% 26% 20% 13% What social activities I take part in 11% 6% 9% 9% What products I use 17% 19% 12% 15% Some other way 2% 2% 3% 1% TV has not influenced me in doing any of these things 60% 48% 62% 66%
Q: Where are you getting your best information about current events these days, or don’t you follow current events? (Two answers allowed, selected responses shown.)
*--* Ages 12-14 Ages 15-17 Male Female Male Female Talking with friends and Family 33% 37% 30% 27% Local television news 30% 25% 29% 31% School/classroom 24% 26% 18% 18% Network television news (CBS, ABC, NBC) 14% 18% 15% 15% MTV 12% 12% 7% 10% Newspapers 8% 7% 13% 8% Internet/blogs 4% 9% 15% 11% Unconventional news/humor shows (Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” etc.) 4% 3% 3% 1% Don’t pay attention to current events 12% 7% 12% 9%
*--* Ages 18-20 Ages 21-24 Male Female Male Female Talking with friends and Family 20% 31% 18% 23% Local television news 31% 30% 35% 48% School/classroom 2% 5% 3% 1% Network television news (CBS, ABC, NBC) 18% 20% 17% 20% MTV 11% 8% 1% 4% Newspapers 19% 12% 20% 15% Internet/blogs 14% 9% 12% 10% Unconventional news/humor shows (Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” etc.) 11% 5% 5% 5% Don’t pay attention to current events 13% 13% 13% 11%
Note: More information on this poll can be found at latimes.com/entertainmentpoll
How the poll was conducted
The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll was conducted from June 23 to July 3 using the Knowledge Networks’ Web-enabled panel, which provides a representative nationwide sample of U.S. households. Of the 4,466 minors and young adults invited to participate in the survey, 1,904 (43%) responded to the survey, with 1,650 qualifying. The 1,650 qualified respondents included 839 minors (ages 12 to 17) and 811 young adults (ages 18 to 24). The margin of sampling error for both groups is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In order to provide as representative a sample as possible, the survey results were weighted to U.S. census figures for 12- to 24-year-olds in the United States in terms of age, race or ethnicity, gender and region, and for urban or rural residence and Internet access.
Source: Times/Bloomberg poll
The Entertainment Poll
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On the Web
Readers weigh in: How has the entertainment industry failed today’s young people? Plus, read previous installments of this series. All at latimes.com/entertainmentpoll.