Is Nielsen right on teens?

teensaThe human brain loves outliers. It uses them to provide new perspectives on the norm. With this in mind, Nielsen’s recent How Teens Use Media report attempts to ignore outliers, and look purely at research to give a perspective of teen media consumption, and in so doing, attempts to portray a more grounded and non-biased perspective of teen behavior.

Unfortunately for Nielsen, bias is unavoidable, and their report ignores certain outliers to the detriment of its overall perspective. The report’s findings, covering all of Nielsen’s research properties, showcases the inability of non-integrated research to accurately portray the behavior of the most integrated generation.

Let’s start with TV. While there are debates over Nielsen’s measurement for TV, specifically DVR behavior and a household’s usage by individual, for the sake of brevity I’ll assume Nielsen knows TV, and that the numbers are accurate. It shouldn’t be too surprising that teens media tastes and behaviors reflect their parents. The teen years are initial forays into individuality, but until that crucial 18-25 year old period, teen behavior is primarily representative of (a) their peers, and (b) their household. Where we really see alternative media take hold is the 18-25 year old demographic.

Even if Nielsen is right and, as they claim, teens watch a lot of live TV, their own numbers indicate that teens are 16 percent less attentive to ad programming than older demographics and that video ads from Internet streams have higher recall than TV ads.

The one point I seriously question is the suggestion that teens multi-task during media consumption less than adults (based on two Ball State studies). From Nielsen’s own numbers, teens send on average 96 texts in their waking hours. Considering cell phone usage limits during class and meals by school and parents respectively, teens have to text during all other media consumption at a regular interval to account for nearly a hundred messages a day. And that’s just for mobile.

Let’s move on to Internet use. Nielsen suggests teens use the Internet less than half as much as adults. They’re probably right, though Nielsen’s Internet tracking has come under fire in the past. But it makes sense — teens spend a lot of time at school, which are notoriously unconnected institutions. However, the report seems to specify that these numbers represent PC Internet use. Later in the report, it’s mentioned that US teens mobile Internet use is at a staggering 37 percent, much higher than the national average of 18 percent. And does that measurement include the iPod Touch?

For a moment, let’s bring in some recently released numbers from AdMob, a mobile ad network primarily running on iPhones and iPod Touch devices. According to AdMob, four in ten users surveyed reported using their devices to browse the Web more than desktop computers. And if the iPod Touch wasn’t included in Nielsen’s numbers, that’s a problem, because while only six percent of iPhone users are teens, 46 percent of iPod Touch users are 13-17.

Despite these shortcomings, I found the report to be a very enjoyable read, and highly recommend checking it out. It’s a very well written document, and is at very least an interesting consideration. There are some other bizarre numbers, such as the assertion that one in four teens reads newspapers, – based on a data set of 18-20 year olds – which can sometimes be annoying. The first ten pages are a great read though.