Thursday, January 29, 2009

Baby Boomers, TV and the Internet

Once, the three-channeled rabbit-eared centerpiece in the American living room, that “small screen” has left the decorative walnut cabinet our parents were so proud of, and now can be found in flat screen computers and on mobile phones. Driven by consumer demand for entertainment and good old American capitalism, we’ve gone from rooftop antennas, to cable and satellite transmissions. Our station selection has increased far into the hundreds and in the meantime, with the introduction of broadband and high speed wireless, our computers and cell phones started to host visual experiences like the news, music videos and real time interactive conversations.


A recent broadcast first at Obama’s inauguration is one example of many that demonstrates the experimentation and evolution going on with the “small screen”. CNN changed the viewing experience by integrating Facebook, into their broadcast. While the CNN.com broadcast was seamlessly displayed, Facebook followers watching commented, on the same screen, on the event in real time to their friends.


In fact our “small screen” is experiencing explosive growth particularly on the Web where TV shows are downloaded by the millions and streaming is gaining remarkable momentum. Just look at the popularity of free downloads of TV shows and movies on BitTorrent.

In addition, according to a research report (June 2008), conducted by The Nielsen Company for the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM) when asked to choose among seventeen online content categories, online viewers said they prefer to watch shorter video clips when they go online. Specifically these “small screen” choices included: movie trailers (53%), user generated videos (45%), music videos and general news segments (37%), comedy programs (31%), and sports clips (31%).

So is anyone watching the set in the living room? Well, according to that same Nielsen study commissioned by CTAM, roughly 94% of cable and satellite subscribers prefer to watch “TV” on their TV, (not on their computers). A good indication about who these folks are comes from another study released by Magna Global's Steve Sternberg (June, 2008), which discovered that the five broadcast networks' average live median age was 50.

Who are these 50 somethings? Well, you’ve heard of them. They represent the largest US population segment in history. There are about 77.2 million between the ages of 44 and 62. They’re called Baby Boomers and the enormous size of this group makes them key influencers in the evolution of the “small screen”. For starters think about this, Boomers have spent years sitting down after dinner not in front of their computers but the TV, and you’ll understand Steve Sternberg’s 50 something statistic. Old habits die hard.

What might surprise you is that it isn’t the younger set but Boomers who make up the largest group of US Internet users. At 56.7 million strong, they constitute nearly 30% of the online population. Like the three hundred pound gorilla in the room, what Boomers want and what they do, matters a lot to merchants, marketers and people who want to make money. And even if they haven’t all given up their VCRs, baby boomers are starting to buy, download and stream media online.

According to a September 2008 study from market research group NPD, roughly 61 % of baby boomers said they visited sites that offer streaming or downloadable video (e.g., YouTube and TV network Web sites), and 41 % had visited social networks (e.g., Linked-In, Facebook, and MySpace),. Plus, the web-savvy boomers who visited video streaming sites were 15 % more likely to buy DVDs, CDs and go to the movies.

As opposed to those younger folks, in general, boomers have a different attitude toward the Internet, as pointed out by Lisa Phillips, eMarketer senior analyst. It’s more of a convenience and less of an entertainment vehicle. Also, how boomers use the Internet today is indicative of how they will use it as they age into their 70s and 80s. Their influence is not going away any time soon.

Want to be successful on the “small screen” to this large and lucrative segment? Take these words of advice from Russ Crupnick, entertainment industry analyst for the NPD Group, to heart. “There’s an ongoing misperception that certain Web activities are the exclusive domain of young people. That misperception could cost the entertainment industry, in terms of lost opportunities to target valuable consumers." Not convinced? Here’s an additional warning from Ms. Philips. “Marketers who pigeonhole boomers as just aging seniors will find their brands ignored and distrusted by this generation.”