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Tapping Into Teens

7 Nov, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

Teens are the most digitally connected American consumers, and they represent a $200 billion market.

It's especially important that entertainment companies reach teens because movies are No. 4 on the list of top five things teens spend their money on, outstripped only by clothes, eating out and cars (if they have them). That's according to Jim Taylor, vice chairman of research company Harrison Group, who spoke at the recent “What Teens Want” conference in Los Angeles.

Not only are teens very interested in movies, but they are also more likely than the over-18 population to access digital entertainment, according to a recent survey by The NPD Group.

More than 11% of teenagers in the survey said they had streamed or downloaded a movie during a three-month period at the beginning of this year, compared to just 3.7% of respondents older than 18. For TV shows, the gap is even bigger between the two groups, with 11.4% of teens saying they downloaded or streamed a TV show compared to just 2.5% of the older age group.

This generation looks like no other with regard to access to technology, Harrison's Taylor said.

Teens have created elaborate multimedia entertainment hubs in their bedrooms, with personal computers, stereo equipment, televisions and DVD players, he said. Nearly 69% of teens can lock their parents out of their rooms, 57% have their own DVD players, 31% have iPods, more than 70% have their own personal computers and 67% have their own cell phones.

Teens spend 72 hours a week in connected activity — instant messaging, texting and surfing the Internet, Taylor said. More than 70% spend two to three hours a day listening to and/or downloading music, he said.

Most importantly, Taylor said, teens have created, via Web sites such as MySpace.com and Facebook.com, tightly knit circles of friends. This social interaction rules their lives. If a message doesn't come from within that network, it just doesn't get in, Taylor said.

Teens don't make the same kind of distinction between online and offline behaviors as other generations, said Christina Norman, president of MTV, at the “What Teens Want” conference.

“Their perception of the way they use media is very different from ours,” she said. “We see it as a digital revolution; they simply see it as the tools they use to live their lives.”

There are several key trends in the teen market, she said.

One is the “share/create/validate” mentality, she said, as evidenced by the popularity of user-generated content sites such as YouTube. The validate portion of the equation is essential, Norman said. It's not enough for teens to film videos and be able to post them on the Internet; they want to become Internet superstars by getting rated, receiving feedback and being seen.

Another teen trend is diversity, Norman said. Increasingly, teens' friendships with others are not based on people who look like them or live like them. Teens create “identity tribes” that rally around passions, ideas and shared interests rather than shared ethnic and cultural backgrounds, she said.

Entertainment companies and advertisers can break into those identity tribes, she said. Music is a key way to communicate with them, she said. But the message has to be authentic, she said.

“Young people are very spin savvy,” she said. “Woe be unto the marketer who gets caught trying to be ‘real,’ she said.

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