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Young people are watching less TV – but what are they doing instead?

We’ve all heard the age-old complaint about youths watching too much TV, but is this still true? It turns out the focal point of every living room is getting less attention from young people than you’d think.

That’s according to a recent study from Ofcom, which found young people are watching almost seven times less TV than over 65s. The study found that over 65s watch broadcast television for an average of six hours a day, while 16-24-year-olds are only watching for 53 minutes a day – a two-thirds drop from ten years ago.

This begs the question – what are young people watching or doing instead?

Rise of the smartphone

You don’t need to be a teacher or a parent to know that children and young people are spending more and more time on their phones. People in the UK on average spend four hours a day on their phones, with young people spending even more than that staring at their devices.

Social media, short-form video (such as YouTube and TikTok) and mobiles games are all designed to pull in and hold our attentions, and often purposely target young people and children. Of course, phones also give people access to educational tools, so don’t take too harsh of a stance against them!

Game on

The video games industry is a booming one. And while gaming has been around for decades now, online gaming has brought in an entirely new aspect to it, making it about socialising, as well as entertainment. While playing computer games used to be a largely solitary pastime, players can now spend hours diving into the digital world with friends – whether they be classmates or people from the other side of the world. Of course, this has made gaming far more addictive, and time consuming, for young people.

In 2019 young people aged 12 to 15 spent an average of 11.6 hours gaming each week, according to Statista. This also encompasses mobile gaming, which has made gaming even easier to access for young people.

There’s just... more to do

The internet impacts almost every part of our day-to-day lives. What was once a research tool has enabled us to work, study, entertain ourselves, socialise, consume media... the list is virtually endless. To put it plainly, there is just much more that young people can entertain themselves with in the home these days. Exercise regimes are now far more interactive thanks to internet-reliant devices such as Peloton bikes; cooking and baking has become more than just about sustenance, but evolved into a creative endeavour where people can share recipes and results online; hobbies are something young people share and enjoy in the digital sphere rather than just alone in their bedrooms.

And let’s not forget that the aforementioned social media is no longer just an act of consumption. Children and young people are the front-runners when it comes to content creation on social platforms. Whether they’ve got millions of followers and a career as influencers, or are just making fun videos and streaming their hobbies, the younger generation are taking a much more active role in the media they consume (and create) which also takes up their time.

The end of broadcast television?

It’s a question that has been rattling around the offices of the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 for years now. Is the rise of streaming TV the death knell for traditional broadcast TV?

Young people have always been early adopters and champions of new technology, so it’s not surprising that younger people are steadily moving towards streaming on-demand TV, rather than watching broadcast TV. Some Gen Xers may have even grown up in homes that don’t even have TV licenses!

There has been plenty of speculation in recent years that the BBC will soon end the TV licence all together, accepting that the way people consume television has changed and is more dependent on subscriptions and advertising. Perhaps this will be the final acceptance that younger generations are more interested in video on demand than broadcast television? Whatever happens, we’re sure to see continued changes in the way TV, and all media, is consumed in the coming years.


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