FEATURE7 August 2014

Techie teens changing comms landscape

Features Youth

The digital native generation is leaving adults standing when it comes to digital confidence according to Ofcom’s latest study writes Jane Bainbridge.



The life of a teenager has always been a separate world to that of an adult but the preferences in terms of communications is particularly pronounced. While teens text, adults talk; kids head straight for YouTube while grown-ups sit down for linear TV.

Of course this is something of an over-simplification; digital communications is changing behaviour across the generations although Ofcom’s latest study shows distinct habits within different age groups.

Tech-savvy 14 and 15 year olds have no concept of pre-internet life or the frustration of dial-up connections, instead possessing digital confidence and a clear understanding of the current comms landscape and technology. In its Communications Market Report Ofcom measured confidence and knowledge of communications technology among nearly 2,000 adults and 800 children. It found that six year olds claim to have the same understanding of communications technology as 45 year olds.

Ofcom developed its ‘digital quotient’ (DQ) test to determine people’s awareness and self confidence around devices, knowledge of the internet and mobile apps. It found that among six to seven year olds the average DQ score was 98; this compares with an average of 96 for 45 – 49 year olds. Digital understanding peaks between 14 and 15 years old, with a DQ of 113, before gradually declining through adulthood.

And even a few years’ difference affects how people communicate and use media, so that 12-15 year olds are developing fundamentally different habits even compared with 16-24 year olds. Verbal communication via the telephone is disappearing among children with just 3% of 12-15 year olds’ communications time spent making voice calls. Instead the vast majority ( 94%) is text based via instant messaging and social networking.

By contrast, older generations still talk on their phones: 20% of UK adults’ communications time is spent on the phone on average. Adults have embraced digital text-based communications, although the email is most popular (used for 33% of their time spent communicating) compared with just 2% among 12-15 year olds.

“Our research shows that a ‘millennium generation’ is shaping communications habits for the future. While children and teenagers are the most digitally-savvy, all age groups are benefiting from new technology” Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive.

With more platforms and devices to access content, media and communications is dominating our lives. To the point where we spend more time on it than we do sleeping. The average UK adult now spends eight hours 41 minutes on media and communications than they do sleeping (eight hours 21 minutes – the UK average). But because of the rise of multi-tasking on different devices, second-screening and faster connections with broadband and 4G mobile, total use of media and communications averaged more than 11 hours every day in 2014. This is an increase of more than two hours since Ofcom last conducted similar research in 2010.

Mobile devices

The shift from desktop computers to mobile devices is taking hold, with a rapid rise in tablets and smartphones across all generations. More than four in 10 households ( 44%) now have a tablet, up from a 24% a year ago and 28% of those over 55 now own a tablet, with it often being used as their main form of computing.

Tablet use may be spread across generations but smartphone ownership varies considerably according to age. Almost nine in ten ( 88%) of 16-24 year olds own a smartphone, compared with 14% of the 65+ age group. Young adults spend three hours 36 minutes each day on their smartphones, nearly three times the one hour 22 minute average across all adults.

Take-up of smartphones is almost on a par with that of laptops ( 63%) among UK households, while desktop PC ownership has dropped, from 44% in 2012 to 35% in 2014.

Television time

As well as investigating the broader communications landscape, Ofcom has also looked at the state of the TV. The UK TV industry as a whole generated £12.9bn in revenue, representing a rise of 3.4% and the good news for the TV ad business was that broadcast TV advertising revenue returned to growth in 2013, rising 4% to almost £3.7bn.

Online TV revenue increased by 41% last year to £364m and streaming made its mark — the subscription model saw the most rapid growth with an increase of 76% to £112m.

TV viewing has not taken the nose-dive some predicted but it has been affected by the rise of alternative content and viewing methods. There was a decline in viewing in 2013 across all age groups according to BARB, with average viewing down to 232 minutes (compared with 241 minutes in 2012 ).