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Internet Overtakes TV As Preferred Medium For Under-24 Crowd

The Internet surpassed television as the most consumed media of choice for teen-agers and adults up to age 24, according to a new study commissioned by online portal Yahoo Inc. and media services agency Carat Interactive.

This generation, styled as “Millennials,” uses the Internet as the main hub, with other media pushed to the background or helping to direct the online experience.

“To ignore this trend is to move further and further away from reaching this target,” said Sarah Fay, president of Carat Interactive, Boston. “Think about how complex and elusive it is to reach the teen market. Unless you have teen-agers, it's really difficult to understand what their motivation and behavior are.”

Conducted by Harris Interactive and Teenage Research Unlimited, the study was released yesterday at a Yahoo marketing conference in Sunnyvale, CA. Executives from firms like Coca-Cola Co., Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, Adidas, Perfetti Van Melle, Wendy's and Dr Pepper attended for free.

The research is called “Born to be Wired: The Role of New Media for a Digital Generation.”

Through this survey, Yahoo and Carat stress a known fact: Teens and young adults are critical for most brands. The United States has 47 million people ages 13-24. They account for more than $149 billion in direct spending yearly, 15 percent of which goes online. And their influence on spending is five times more than their direct spending.

“You're really being remiss if you're not including the Internet as a major part of the media mix, because clearly it's a major part of their media lives,” Fay said.

Teens and young adults now spend 16.7 hours online weekly, excluding e-mail activity, the study found. They spend only 13.6 hours weekly watching TV, 12 hours listening to the radio and 7.7 hours talking on the telephone. Only six hours are spent reading books and magazines for personal pleasure.

A key finding of the survey was the diverging attitudes toward media. For example, older generations were more likely to be loyal to a single type of media. A fragmented media market daunts them.

Teens and young adults are not overwhelmed by the multiplicity of media choices like cable networks and stations, magazines and radio. Rather, that abundance empowers them, aided by their ability to multitask more than any other generation.

When online, 68 percent said they listen to CDs or MP3 players, 67 percent eat, 50 percent watch TV, 45 percent talk on the phone, 45 percent listen to the radio, 45 percent do homework and 21 percent read. Only 5 percent did nothing else.

Of course, an entire generation cannot be painted with the same “young consumers” brush. There are six, almost evenly divided, segments with distinct attitudes: Hubs, Chic Geeks, Miss Insulars, The “Now” Crowd, The IQ Crew and Alter-ego.coms.

A two-phased study, the Yahoo-Carat project included a quantitative online study and qualitative focus groups.

For the online survey, 2,618 respondents ages 13-24 were interviewed in June. The sample was drawn from the Harris Online database and quotas set to approximate the U.S. Census for demographic variables such as sex, age and religion. Quantitative data collected formed the basis of a segmentation model.

After tabulating and analyzing the quantitative data, Teenage Research ran focus groups split equally between Chicago and Los Angeles. Four groups were recruited from its TrendWatch panel of trendsetting teens. Another four focus groups were conducted among college students and working youth ages 19-22.

Discussions in the groups centered on the media choices made by young people, the role of media in their lives and the reasons for their choices.

The study unearths for advertisers the sweeping changes occurring in media consumption habits of younger consumers. It also confirms that these individuals lead the way with new technology.

For example, 82 percent of surveyed consumers ages 13-18 and 89 percent of those ages 19-24 owned or used computers. In descending order, both age groups also owned or used video game consoles, cell phones, Game Boy/Advance, digital cameras, text messaging and digital cable TV and music players.

When online, the surveyed consumers first visit search engines to find the information they need, the survey claimed. E-mailing is next, followed by instant messenger, games, browsing and bookmarks.

Once on the Web site, they expect to be able to find a place to do research and find the location interesting. They want to be entertained, garner information and look up products, download or share music and read the latest news, in that order.

Aware of the Internet's pivotal role, Fay still is unsure whether marketers will immediately shift ad dollars online in larger increments. And it would be hard to gather so early on, especially since teens and young adults continue to use other media.

“I don't know where the money necessarily needs to come from,” she said. “I just know that if you build a program from the ground up, the Internet is a major building block, almost the first.”

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