How Morgan Got It Wrong on Kids and MediaBenjamin Montague
I am a 17-year-old student from North London interning this summer at the BusinessWeek London bureau. Soaking up headlines and blog chatter all day in front of my PC, I couldn't miss the frenzy over a report issued by Morgan Stanley (MS) summarizing the opinions of an intern there about how kids use media today.
The July 10 report, authored by a 15-year-old Briton named Matthew Robson, has the provocative title How Teenagers Consume Media and has set off a storm of reaction, especially from gray-haired media execs quivering at the implications of what this kid says.
While I agreed with some of Matthew's ideas, I took issue with the majority of them. In fact, I was amazed that Morgan Stanley published a report based on one teenager's opinion because I don't think his views represent our whole generation. Matthew and I obviously live very different lives.
Not Enough Time for TV? Yeah, Right
Where to begin? One of the things Matthew said that caused a big fuss was, "No teenager I know of regularly reads the newspaper." That's not what I see among my friends. There are newspapers available in my school common room, and they're always being read. Some boys are more interested in the sports section and others in business or headline news, but the point is the same: They are being read.
Matthew also says, "Most teenagers nowadays are not regular listeners to the radio," choosing instead to stream online music from sites like Last.fm (CBS). I completely disagree. Lots of teenagers I know listen to the radio—and not just for music. Shows like the Chris Moyles Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 1 are hugely popular, and many kids listen to it on the way to school. And being on BBC, it doesn't have any advertisements, either.
The same goes for television. Matthew thinks teens aren't watching as much live TV as they used to thanks to services such as the BBC iPlayer, which streams video-on-demand to your PC. Call me old-fashioned, but I'd rather flop down on the couch and watch the widescreen TV than hunch in an uncomfortable desk chair and peer at my PC. He also says that for kids in general it's "hard to find time each day" to watch TV. I think that's rubbish. All of my friends watch loads of TV, and I'll be the first to admit that I watch too much.
The Music-Thief Generation
I was really surprised that Matthew said "PC gaming has little or no place in the teenage market." I think what he meant was that teens tend to play more on video game consoles. But most of my friends play lots of games on their PCs, and it's clearly a pretty big business: With a bit of research, I found out that the PC-based game market was worth about $10.7 billion last year, and I'll bet not too many of the players are adults.
Matthew also talks about kids using their game consoles to chat for free over the Internet and suggests that this may reduce the time they spend talking on conventional telephones. I've tried voice chat on game consoles, but the sound quality wasn't very good. I think it has a long way to go before it will be able to compete with the telephone. Even Skype (EBAY) (the most popular Voice-over-Internet application) doesn't come close. Personally, I just use my home telephone because we have a fixed monthly tariff so calls to other land lines are essentially free anyway.
One thing that annoyed me was the impression Matthew created of teenagers as music thieves. He says most have "never" bought a CD—but there are always hundreds of CDs on sale at the stores, so I'm sure lots of teenagers have bought a few on occasion. He also says 80% of teens download music illegally from file-sharing sites and that the Apple (AAPL) iTunes Music Store is "unpopular with many teenagers because of the 'high price' (79p per song)." (That's about $1.30.) While I'm sure many kids can't afford to buy many songs, my friends and I use iTunes a lot and give each other iTunes gift vouchers as presents on birthdays or at the holidays.
Agreement on Twitter
The only thing I completely agreed with is what Matthew wrote about Twitter. Twitter currently has lots of media hype and publicity, so lots of teenagers sign up and use it constantly for about a week, regularly updating profiles with information nobody really cares about. (Personally, I enjoyed following a person known as "FunnyJoker," who posted hilarious quotes and jokes whenever he remembered them.) But my sense is that after about a week, a lot of teenagers realize that nobody is reading their tweets. As Matthew put it, "Tweets are pointless." For this reason, Facebook is infinitely more important in the life of a teenager—and the majority of us would give the exact same answer if we were asked.
Which brings me to my final point. I don't mean to be disrespectful to Matthew. We're both teenage interns who got the chance to publish our opinions about media. My bigger problem is with Morgan Stanley, which was irresponsible to pass off the views of one kid as the opinion of an entire generation. If Morgan Stanley wanted to tap into the teen mindset, it should have asked lots of people from different backgrounds. After all, I may disagree with Matthew on much of what he said, but lots of other people will disagree with me.