Playing the digital media generation game

Keeping pace with changing consumer tastes, demands, interests and expectations of different generation has been a challenge faced by businesses and organisations ever since time began.

But thanks to the technological advancements in the past 10 years, that change has been even faster and more acute. This makes it difficult to predict, hard for incumbents to react to and increasingly problematic for corporate bottom lines.

On the plus side, it has allowed for the huge growth in startup and challenger culture, bringing new ideas and offerings, that were once unimaginable.

Few industries have seen greater disruption than the Media and Entertainment industry; from the rise of streaming music and video vs CDs, DVDs and linear TV to the surge in social media use rather than getting news and views from traditional outlets.

But there are many differences and divisions to understand and acknowledge among the two most digitally-native audiences – Generation Y (those born in the early 1980s to the late 1990s – more commonly-known as Millennials) and Generation Z (those born generally at the end of the 1990s and during the start of the 2000s).

Here we look at some of those most important points to understand across various sectors:


According to Ofcom’s Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes report, the lives of Gen Z are dominated by TVs and tablets while other research shows Gen Y’s existence is dominated by their smartphones.

In fact, the report points out that TV is still a very regular medium for media consumption for Gen Z, the only device used regularly by all age groups in this range.

But with half of 8-15s having their own tablet, the digital disruption this presents for brands and advertisers for the future – in terms of the larger screen and greater ability for interaction – is key.

This can be contrasted to Ofcom figures in another report showing adults prefer their smartphones for five out of nine online activities such as social media, listening to music, watching short videos or surfing the web. They preferred a laptop for watching TV or shopping online.


Since the early 2000s, the rise of the internet followed by the availability of smartphones changed the culture of news. In the UK, the sales of paid-for printed newspapers have fallen off a cliff, giving way to generations growing up as seeing news being 'free' to access. Attempts to introduce paywalls failed to convert many to pay for online stories.

Generation Y – unlike the previous Generation X who often still read a newspaper from cover to cover – then morphed into a desire for more ‘snackable’ news, craving quick hits of gossip, the latest sports round-ups or important information fed to them via text messages or push notifications on phones and latterly through apps.

Last year the BBC reported a study that showed 28% of 18-24s (Gen Y) cited social media as the main place they got their news from.

This has brought a rise in new digital-only media publishers such as Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, fueled a huge debate over Facebook and Twitter’s algorithms choosing what news to show to different people and spawned that now, much used phrase, ‘fake news’.

For Generation Z (a population estimated at 2.56bn worldwide by 2020) and certainly for the next-gen Alpha, the situation looks vastly different, with apps such as Snapchat and Instagram now taking centre-stage. This is set alongside YouTube, its vloggers and influencers becoming the natural home for them to learn new ideas, knowledge and skills rather than from the TV.

The growth in Subscription Video on Demand services alongside streaming music services have become the norm for both Gens Y and Z. But according to Nielsen, Millennials are a hugely distracted audience being the least engaged with what they are watching.

So what does all this mean for the long-term? Well in the race to capture the hearts and minds (and money) of Gens Y and Z, companies, organisations and brands should be mindful of the small nuances.

Generational differences have always been key but now even the tiniest ones could mean big profits or losses if the digital delivery of what people want to watch, listen to, read and interact with isn’t done right.

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