Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Here come the readers...

It would seem we are slowly turning into a nation with mostly readers, thanks to younger Americans.  The National Endowment for the Arts reported these findings (among others) in a recent survey.
  • For the first time in the history of the survey - conducted five times since 1982 - the overall rate at which adults read literature (novels and short stories, plays, or poems) rose by seven percent.
  • The absolute number of literary readers has grown significantly. There were 16.6 million more adult readers of literature in 2008. The growth in new readers reflects higher adult reading rates combined with overall population growth.
  • Young adults show the most rapid increases in literary reading. Since 2002, 18-24 year olds have seen the biggest increase (nine percent) in literary reading, and the most rapid rate of increase (21 percent). This jump reversed a 20 percent rate of decline in the 2002 survey, the steepest rate of decline since the NEA survey began.  
  • The U.S. population now breaks into two almost equally sized groups – readers and non-readers.
  • A slight majority of American adults now read literature (113 million) or books (119 million) in any format. 

This sort of confounds the image of video-game-playing slackers.  But is also raises the question of what aren't these new readers doing?  It would appear they are more selective in watching TV.
According to a new study from Deloitte (h/t TVTattle), "millennials" (Americans aged 14 to 25) watch 10.25 hours of TV per week—although they spend more time with "media" (including computers, videogames and music) than other age groups. Beyond that group, TV use goes up with age: 15.1 hours for Gen X (those aged 26 to 42), 19.2 hours for baby boomers (43-61) and 21.5 hours for "matures" (62-75). 
The question is whether these gaps are related to age or generation: i.e., whether "millennials" will watch more TV as they get older, or whether their cohort has developed other habits they'll keep through life. (Will TV-watching someday be a cartoon shorthand for age, like holding a cane or using an earhorn?) The corollary question is whether, by the time they get older, the distinction between "TV" and other forms of media will be so blurry that the preceding question will be moot. [More]

Now add in the technical problem of measuring who is watching what in the age of DVRs and online broadcasting, and what young people are up to is pretty much a guess, especially at the individual level.
For the last 20 years, the television industry has been all about young-adult demographic groups, or "demos" in the slang of Madison Avenue, because marketers have believed that young people are most likely to develop lifelong loyalties to certain brands. Thus, whichever network attracts the most adults under 50 has been considered the winner, commanding premium rates for commercial time.

As a result, network executives have driven themselves to distraction chasing young people, struggling to find programs with appeal for viewers in their 20s and 30s. During the 1990s, for instance, executives spent enormous sums trying to find youth-oriented shows in the vein of NBC's smash sitcom "Friends." Meanwhile, people of other ages slowly drifted away to their own niche shows on cable TV or other media.
Yet there are growing signs that network TV is moving away from its relentless focus on demos -- and that could have a huge influence on future programming. There's a growing sense in the industry that the 18-to-49 category's importance to marketers may be wildly overblown. Moreover, in an age of DVRs, multichannel systems and increasingly tiny ratings, the demo obsession may itself be pushing down ratings, exacerbating the industry's problems and excluding from consideration too many programs that could have broad appeal.  [More]

The actual problem could be growing individuality or at least, micro-populations that defy lumping together. It seems to me the news ways of maintaining personal connections is giving rise to viable social groups with eclectic or even eccentric preferences. Indeed those preferences may be how they establish identity. as a result, they defy aggregation and pose major headaches for advertisers.

It will be interesting to follow how TV habits change during the recession.  Typically bad economic times have raised demand for cheap entertainment, but this time there are so many more choices for escapist leisure activities.

Like, umm, reading blogs.

1 comment:

MGA said...

I heard similar statistics on Minnesota Public Radio followed by the comment that the 18 year old readers read only because it was a school assignment and the number of older adult readers who had NOT read some type of book had actually increased. Data can be manipulated to say whatever the writer wants.