Lockdown opened 'astonishing' generation gap in media habits

Commercial broadcast TV lost the attention of 18- to 34-year-olds to online video during the first coronavirus lockdown but was re-embraced by over-55s, IPA TouchPoints finds.

Lockdown: caused media consumption habits of different generations to diverge (Image: Lisa-Blue/Getty)
Lockdown: caused media consumption habits of different generations to diverge (Image: Lisa-Blue/Getty)

The IPA has detailed the "astonishing" impact of the first national lockdown on the nation’s commercial media consumption.

Broadly, lockdown drove 16- to 34-year-olds even further towards social media and away from traditional TV content, but pushed older people back to print and the TV set. 

During the lockdown period (24 March to 10 May), 16- to 34-year-olds consumed less broadcast TV content than non-broadcast online video content for the first time, both in terms of reach and time spent with the medium per week.

This was the case even when combining broadcast video-on-demand (BVOD) with live/recorded broadcast TV, according to the IPA’s senior research and marketing manager, Simon Frazier. In addition, the non-broadcast online video content, which is mainly accounted for by YouTube, does not include online video originating from news publishers or other media channels such as radio. 

However, live/recorded TV broadcast content grew its appeal to older generations, with both 35- to 54-year-olds and the over-55s spending more time with it than before lockdown, although its reach in these categories did not increase.

It is not just in TV that the generational media habits of the over-55s and 16- to 34-year-olds diverged last year, but across the picture, according to Frazier. These two groups had been 58% similar in their media habits in 2015, dropping to 21% in the pre-lockdown period (15 January-23 March 2020) and then to an “astonishing” 8% during lockdown.

Frazier writes in the study (Making Sense: the Commercial Media Landscape, 3rd edition): “Sixteen to 34s under lockdown became more digital in their consumption habits, while [those aged] 55+ saw almost a counter-digital movement in their behaviours, showing for the first time since 2015 growth in reach, time spent and time share for newsbrands in print, broadcast linear TV, mail and live radio to name but a few. 

“For 55+ it almost seems that under lockdown, the tangible assets of more physical media became more appealing than the faster-moving, constantly updating, intangibility of digital media. Whereas for 16 to 34s digital media perhaps provided a lifeline to connect them to the world that was so rapidly changing.”

One thing all three generations had in common in lockdown was a collapse in the amount of time spent seeing out-of-home media (by at least two-thirds for each), although the study observed that OOH’s all-adult reach stayed high during lockdown, at just under 80%, compared with about 95% pre-lockdown.

This change in OOH, coupled with the divergence between the generations, made it much harder for advertisers to find a single media channel capable of delivering mass exposure during lockdown. 

"A ‘one size fits all’ media approach is likely to be less effective than it was previously," Frazier writes.

"While as [Les] Binet and [Peter] Field stated, ‘Broad reach is still essential for profitable brand growth’, how advertisers achieve that broad reach is becoming even more varied across age groups.”

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