Wednesday, 15 July 2009

In my day, we just made the tea...

Is it the silly season already? Or has reality just gone on holiday for a bit (quite probably to recover from its recent mauling at the First Annual Michael Jackson Memorial Fest)? After all, how else to explain "dozens and dozens of fund managers, and several CEOs" tripping over themselves to find out more about a work experience kid's anecdotes about his mates?

To explain: earlier this week Morgan Stanley published a short report on the media consuming habits of teenagers, by Matthew Robson, a 15-year-old "intern"; the document generated "five or six times" more feedback than most of Morgan Stanley's usual reports, the firm said, with execs and investment bankers phoning and emailing Morgan Stanley all day. This despite the report having been published with no claims to statistical rigour, and being seemingly largely based upon - as The FT refers to him - Mr Robson's observations of his friends.

Commenting on how accurate the report might be I'll leave to people who actually know some teenagers - nothing in it seems very new, though, especially not the observation about the low number of teenage Twitter users - and turn to the Guardian, which yesterday went one better than Morgan Stanley, flexing its considerable journalistic muscle to solicit the media-related musings of, not one, but two teenagers. Yes, two. Presumably, this twice as accurate - or half as unrepresentative - account must have sent the City into spasms, not least because the two teenagers in large part disagreed with Matthew Robson, didn't live in London, and weren't male.

Happily for our baffled City, though, all three teenagers do at least seem to agree on a few key things: they and their friends ignore Twitter, quite often enjoy computer games, and wherever possible will avoid paying for more or less anything. So if anyone in the City had already formulated an investment strategy on the back of the Robson Report - as I believe no-one sane is calling it - it probably didn't take too much tweaking (said strategy, I imagine, would now read much like this: invest in anything but Twitter - and give your kids a Hell of a lot more pocket money).

But on a more serious note: how much is actually to be gained by this widespread obsession with the habits of teenagers? Granted, they're the future of media consumption, almost by definition - but when they get to that future they'll no longer actually be teenagers. Right now, they might not be avid consumers of TV or radio or Twitter or whatever, but when they're older - with different priorities and pressures, less leisure time, more need of in-depth information, the overwhelming need to relax after a long day at work, etc. - will that necessarily still be the case? Perhaps Twitter, for instance, isn't doomed by a lack of teenage interest; perhaps it just better suits the needs of an older demographic. And perhaps looking to teenagers to gauge the future of media is only marginally more useful than deciding, "Well, they're the future of medicine too, so we might as well ask them about swine flu." Who knows?

Anyway, clearly some of what we do and like as teenagers carries through into adulthood, so proper studies of teenage media consumption doubtless have more long term value than I've suggested. But to get that pathetically excited over the report of a work experience kid hardly breeds confidence - "Anything to get the City going again, just anything, please, please, please!" you can almost hear them pleading - and these are the ones that didn't lose their jobs! Sigh. Sometimes you really can't help but wonder how the City didn't collapse even sooner.

2 comments:

Peter said...

Hi Tim,

Thanks for that post, I absolutely agree. I, too, was astonished by the scope that this story has taken. What should be taken into account with all this crystal-ball guessing about future media consumption is the fact that habits change over time as the circumstances of daily life evolve. It is nice to jump from one video to another in front of one's computer screen, but try doing that in front of a TV screen in the evening with your family around you.

Peter Schmitz, France

Fiona Campbell-Howes said...

When I was a teenager I used to play Starquake incessantly on the ZX Spectrum, which I like to think is what made Sinclair Research the raging success it is today.