How Kids Consume Media and Change Its Direction

Aug 12, 2014

As a former online English teacher, I know the power of video.

Many times, trying to answer a student's question via email was a useless endeavor. Words alone couldn't explain what the student needed to understand; this was especially true in the cases of visual learners. After a while, I got smart and started sending links to educational videos along with my help and explanations. I almost never got a response back saying "I still don't get it." The responses I did get were thank you notes which declared how awesome the videos were and could I please send videos next time?

I'd hit on a chord that would only continue to ring true -- and ring even more loudly as time goes on.

Digital entertainment has been the favored medium of the younger generation for the last several years, and there's a new statistic in town to prove it. We've already seen in a past column that people between the ages of 18-36 are the least likely to subscribe to cable television. Instead, they beat out all other age ranges in subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

But if you turn your attention to even younger age ranges, the divide between traditional media and new media gets even larger. In July, Variety conducted a survey to see how influential new media stars and traditional media celebrities are in the lives of teenagers. They surveyed 1,500 kids between the ages of 13-18, providing them a range of questions about 20 recognizable names in both mediums. Their "surprising result" found that the top five most influential people in the lives of these teenagers were YouTube stars, beating out even the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Katy Perry, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

In this graphic from, you can see the results of the survey, which found that Smosh, The Fine Bros, PewDiePie, KSI, and Ryan Higa were the top five influencers (and if you don't recognize those names, you better start learning them):

 Granted, the survey may have been in favor of YouTubers all along, because it asked teens how approachable or "real" a celebrity seemed, which is far easier to do on YouTube than in traditional media. However, if you're a traditional business, advertiser, or marketer, you must pay attention to this survey's results. It could make or break how your products or services sell to a new generation of consumers who are quickly overtaking the current market.

Even better, you could follow in the footsteps of Nickelodeon. Recognizing that its decades-old brand needed an update to keep up with the changing tastes of youngsters, it re-designed, creating a standards-challenging site which scrolls side-to-side, a design Nick believes will be more popular with children who are already used to side-swiping on mobile screens.

Additionally, Nickelodeon launched its first-ever digital series called Welcome to the Wayne, created exclusively for viewing on its website and mobile app. One episode is released each week, much like traditional media; the first two are already live on, and the final four will be premiering on the site through September 1. The series is also being developed into a "normal" television show once the digital series is complete. The response to Welcome to the Wayne will undoubtedly influence Nickelodeon's future content decisions, which already involve plans to create three other digital-only series.

According to a New York Times article, Nickelodeon decided it had to reinvent itself once ratings dropped several years ago, largely because its audience had outgrown its content (even such popular shows as Spongebob Squarepants) and moved on to other networks and platforms. While Nielsen ratings show that children between the ages of 2-11 are watching more television today than they were five years ago, Nickelodeon's president, Cyma Zarghami, recognizes "these kids were born into digital TV land," and they're changing accordingly.

I grew up watching shows on networks like Nickelodeon, Disney, and the Cartoon Network all the time. Though I'm still young myself at the age of 27, I remember watching Bugs Bunny every Saturday morning and laughing at the antics of the Smurfs. By the way, several of my students didn't recognize a reference to the Smurfs when I used it in a live online presentation, and this was around the time of the 2011 movie adaptation. I was shocked that day, but after having studied digital media trends over the last few years, discovering how teens are fawning over five YouTube stars before celebs like Jennifer Lawrence, I've gotten over it. Apparently, so has Nickelodeon.

Will you do the same?