Media Lifestyles of the 18 to 34 Year-Olds

What are 18 to 34 year-olds doing with the various forms of media that are available to them? Everything at once, according to quantitative analysis from The Online Publishers Association (OPA) and a quantitative study from Greystone Communications.

The findings, presented during a meeting Tuesday at the Museum of Television & Radio, built upon related research released last month by the OPA on this valuable market segment.

Michael Zimbalist, president of the OPA, noted that the 18 to 34 year-old group is the demographic most highly sought by advertisers. “They are the first generation to grow up with the Internet,” he said. “Their habits will help us understand the future of media consumption.”

Greystone’s ethnographic study of 18 females and 24 males across the tri-state New York area, greater Boston, and greater Chicago attempted to learn more about media consumption by going into homes and offices to closely observe behavior. The findings that media was consumed simultaneously were not entirely surprising, but John Carey, managing director, Greystone Communications, also found nuances among the multitasking.

Under observation, the 18 to 34 year-olds often used media in tandem with one another, alternating between foreground and background consumption. For example, individuals may watch a televised sporting event while surfing ESPN.com from their laptops to get more sports-related information, or talk to each other via cell phone while simultaneously surfing the same Web site.

“This group seems to have an extensive capacity for media usage,” Carey commented, but he wasn’t certain that they would be able to keep the pace over long-term. “I think they’ll age out,” he continued.

Carey further segmented the 18 to 34 year-olds into two categories: the “unsettled” younger individuals who are in college, recent graduates, living with parents, or just starting out on their own; and the “settled,” older end of the spectrum who are typically established in the workforce and starting families.

Carey also noticed that the older, more settled group was more alike in usage and regimentation to 35 to 50 year-olds, while the unsettled have more erratic and unstructured lifestyles.

The Greystone study may have destroyed the image of “poor college students” as Carey noted that he was surprised by the number of laptops and wireless networks that this group owned. This portability, combined with multiple computer labs and stations at universities, allowed for “go everywhere computing” and truly pervasive Internet. The always-on connection from broadband also permitted a more fluid usage of the Internet.

This demographic group essentially views the Web as a traditional form of media, and online shopping and banking came very naturally to them. More of the survey participants were concerned about privacy than security, and some maintained multiple email addresses to alleviate spam loads.

Other notable findings from the extensive hours of observation:

  • The study participants indicated that the TV was used for entertainment, an escape, and information, while the radio provided a primary source for news and traffic information. Some preferred the radio over DVDs since the radio allowed them to “feel connected to the outside world.”
  • Regular newspaper readership in its traditional form was not evident in the study, but Carey found that many 18 to 34 year-olds read a number of newspaper and magazine Web sites on a daily basis. Despite online readership Carey noted that TV is doing a better job than newspapers in driving to the Web.
  • High-end speakers were evident on many computers, as the PC is often used as a sound system. Survey respondents also indicated that online music was more important to them than online video.

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