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Are traditional media chiefs too old to compete?

Traditional media is rightly obsessed with ‘millennials’, the 18-34 year-olds who have grown up with the internet, writes Colin Morrison.

They are up to one-third of the population of most of the major economies, and are the largest, ethnically and racially most diverse generation ever.

They are already some 50 per cent of the working population of many countries and, in a decade or so, will be 75 per cent of the global workforce. Three quarters of millennials (or ‘digital natives’) own a smartphone, and they know about the world largely through the internet and social media. They are, to say the least, less attached to traditional print and broadcast media than their ‘baby boomer’ parents. While Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have increasingly become trusted news sources, traditional journalism has struggled to engage young people. Sky News recently revealed that only 18 per cent of 16-24-year-olds in the UK trusted mainstream media to provide them with relevant information. It’s a media generation gap which is threatening to swallow up decades of newspapers, magazines and broadcast channels.

Almost everything about millennials is enough to scare traditional media. Take this list of their views published recently by Forbes magazine:

  • Mistrust advertising which they regard as “all spin and not authentic”
  • Trust blogs for authenticity over some mainstream media
  • Want to engage with brands on social media. Information not “spin”
  • Want to co-create products with companies
  • Expect brands to give back to society
  • So, that’s a pretty big black mark against conventional advertising, and clear signs of why native ads can be effective.

The big difference is, of course, the technology which is integrated into everything millennials do. After decades of saying “content is king”, media bosses are having to get their heads round the idea that how news, information and entertainment is delivered can be just as important as what. Millennials could not be more different to the baby boomers who built the current media industry during 50 years of revenue boom – before the web pushed the walls down.

Last month, Barack Obama marked his annual ‘State of the Union’ address by giving White House interviews to prominent YouTube vloggers. Like the US President’s four-year participation in video chats on YouTube and via Google+ Hangouts, the interviews conveyed an unmistakeable message about the shift in media power.

It all adds to the frustration of traditional media at its apparent inability to conquer the fast-growing young audiences that they and their advertisers are most desperate to reach. That frustration keeps spilling over into claims that, somehow, this fast-growing ‘new’ generation is simply not interested in news and information. But they could not be more wrong.

Millennials are actually huge consumers of media – just differently. Deloitte recently forecast an average spend of US$750 per millennial in the US, including pay TV and online video and music streaming. They are fuelling the growth of Netflix, Spotify and targeted digital news operators.

More than half of all web-browsing millennials in the US visited BuzzFeed in October, according to ComScore stats reported by Digiday. And they accounted for 61 per cent of Vice’s 25 million news visitors during the same period. The four-year-old Mic was launched “because young people deserve a news destination that offers quality coverage tailored to them” and has rushed to 19 million monthly uniques. Elite Daily, the news site which was launched three years ago as a WordPress blog and now claims more than 30 million monthly uniques, was last week acquired by the UK’s Daily Mail group for a reported $50m. And Snapchat’s Discover pitches the highly-popular app to become another major news source for the smartphone generation.

BuzzFeed was a pioneer but distinctive millennial news services are now so much broader and deeper. And it’s not just news tastes that are different. A US report this month said that only 40 per cent of millennials tune in to live TV each month. The disparity between millennials’ perceptions of traditional and native channels is reinforced by the US-based Intelligence Group’s Cassandra Report which showed that 77 per cent of 3,000 millennials across 10 countries said it was “important” to be informed about current affairs, but 60 per cent said they depended on social media. A handful of traditional news media seem to have cracked it. The Economist’s boss regaled media people at a US conference recently with the claim that 40 per cent of his influential audience are millennials.

Read the rest of this article at Colin Morrison’s blog.

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