Young people and TV, some facts

Kids eh?

A new online survey of children asking them about their media habits, by the research agency Childwise, caught BBC News’s attention today and I was invited on to talk about it.

Kid

Now I want to blog about it, as I’m all about posterity.

Childwise’s findings focussed on a claim that children aged 5- to 16-years-old now spend more time online than they do watching TV.

Good headline, and it may be true, but it totally misses the point.

Online and TV are not equivalents. You may as well pit kettles against electricity.

Childwise has a strangely narrow definition of TV that overlooks the fact that lots of TV is watched online. Their study is also self-reported and so subject to the vagaries of how the children chose to answer – this may account for 50% of 5- to 16s claiming to have watched Netflix in a week, when only around 20% of households in the UK subscribe.

Must be watching it round a mate’s house.

Young people certainly watch less TV on a TV set than they used to – they watch about 2 hours a day on average – but they are spending more time watching TV online thanks to screens like tablets and smartphones, we just can’t measure how much yet.

Their new screen behaviour makes perfect sense. Children have never controlled what is watched on the TV set, but they now have personal screens that they do control. They don’t have to settle for family default viewing.

Hence time spent watching EastEnders has dropped 60% for this age group in the last ten years, but they are still watching almost exactly the same amount of dedicated children’s programming.

As the Childwise research found, they still prefer to watch TV on a TV set. Who doesn’t? Luckily, when they get older and have their own TVs, they can. I wish I had had a tablet and online TV when I was growing up. I wouldn’t have had to sit through the hours of gardening and war programmes my dad watched.

But, although they can avoid the stuff they never really wanted to watch, they aren’t all hiding away upstairs with their faces lit up; they still get involved with family viewing. Their most-watched TV programmes in 2015 according to BARB were Stickman followed by Britain’s Got Talent and then X Factor.

Does this mean anything for advertising? Not really. Children are watching 1 or 2 fewer ads a day on a TV set than years ago, but TV’s reach for this age group has remained constant at around 90% a week for a decade.

So the news is that young people are splitting their TV viewing across more screens than generations that only had one to choose from. Obviously they don’t just use the internet for watching TV. If they did, I wouldn’t be as worried as I am – as a parent – about what they do use it for.

The key issue for me is how this is an increasingly hard landscape for parents to navigate. The familiar UK TV channels are a safe and trusted environment for parents (via their online player extensions) as the rules which govern them in broadcast carry over onto the internet too.

The same cannot be said for other online video content.

Lindsey Clay is CEO of Thinkbox