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Teenagers' listening habits

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Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 13:13 UK time, Wednesday, 15 July 2009

We're told his work experience document is the talk of Wall Street, Tokyo and the City.

Radio 1 logoMatthew Robson's spell at Morgan Stanley led to him penning a report "How Teenagers Consume Media" which makes some depressing reading for those who love radio and want that desire to burn brightly for future generations.

In short - he's talked to 300 youngsters and come to the following conclusions: teenagers don't listen to radio, don't go to the cinema after 15, Twitter is for old folks, newspapers are toast and they don't pay for music.

Well, up to a point Matthew.

It's clearly interesting to hear from people actually in this age bracket but is this really borne out by the facts?

Before we think this undoubtedly thought provoking and intelligent work is on the scale of a Charlie Eppes breakthrough moment (OK, without the Maths) ... it's time for a reality check.

We at Newsbeat on Radio 1 and Revealed on BBC Switch - have done a great deal of hard headed research on all this. Some of it is well founded - some of it good opinionated stuff - but all of it is worth a second glance before it passes off as "The Truth About Teenagers".

Let's take Radio. It's true than the non-visual aspects of radio is less appealing for younger teenagers than 20-somethings. That's why Radio 1 is increasingly visualised - at the moment we are running Zane Lowe and Chris Moyles "in vision" live streamed.

Radio listening among youngest teenagers is declining - but still holding up - and not every teenager is like every other teenager. For example if you want to check out new music and don't want to rely entirely on your mate's dodgy taste - Zane's show is a must.

But after you've established that you like Speech Debelle or stumbled across Wax Fang what next?

In the old days it was off down to the generic music store and parting with £11.99 for the CD. No more. Pirated tracks, Limewire and Pirate Bay have all moved into the history of file sharing - now it's good old YouTube that's the big player in the new music second listen and research stage. After all you don't spend money on music.

I'd agree with Matthew about Twitter: our evidence suggests teenagers Tweet less than any other group though as with the Facebook v Bebo battle of two or three years ago that may change. We're watching keenly.

He usually chats to male friends while battling terrorists on "Call of Duty" - social networking sites and mobile chats are for girls - and of course, cost is key for the cash strapped teenager.

On mobiles - some certainly have cutting edge technology but there are still plenty of basic hand-me-downs - cause of much embarrassment with friends. We are in a recession after all and not every parent has the deep pocket to fork out on the MP3 and top end web browsing experience.

So - last word to the teenagers themselves who checked out Matthew's work experience for me. One said he thought that teenagers not going to the cinema was a load of rubbish ...and added: "he doesn't sound like an ordinary teenager".

Rod McKenzie is editor of Newsbeat and 1Xtra News.


  • Comment number 1.

    "teenagers don't listen to radio"

    Surely that begs the question as to why the BBC are pouring lots of license payer cash into "visualising" Radio One or any other radio for that matter. If "they" don't want it then why is the BBC throwing cash trying to get them to do something they don't want to do? Don't you have a great reason to close Radio One?

    And, how does all this research go with your recent claims of success with Michael Jackson coverage where, apparently, no arm of the BBC could do wrong?

    I worry about how you are all chasing "customers" as if that is the only marker you actually understand. Don't you ever think about what your "real" audience want, the people (teenagers included) who are listening to you today and every day? Do they not count because you already have them?

    The BBC is a public service broadcaster, not a barometer by which all other media must be judged. A quick check on my radio dial shows a lot of stations broadcasting music that I am sure a lot of teenagers dig, but how would you capture that in a survey when they are not listening to or interested in you one little bit? They are a happy bunch so let them alone.

    Why does the BBC have to act like a kleptomaniac so far as audiences go? Are there not enough people to go around everybody according to their tastes?

  • Comment number 2.

    Rod, this shows two things..

    1/ You didn't read his article properly. His point about cinema was that it was seen as a destination for meeting up with friends not simply about seeing a specific film [NOT 'movie'..] - so that if they went to the cinema they might decide what to go and see when they got there.

    2/ You are falling into the trap of the City boys - 'The Wisdom of Crowds' is about tapping into the views of many people to get information about trends and preferences for music and the media.

    Of course, you are right to 'call him out' on this, but I suspect he did not ever really try to spin this as being the 'truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth'. Even though he tries to draw some wide conclusions with few caveats, I'm sure he would not have presented this as really anything other than the view, based on his experience, of one person.

    See also Mark Damazer's 'student roadshow' post on the Radio 4 blog..

  • Comment number 3.

    1. At 2:02pm on 15 Jul 2009, Humblebeginnings wrote

    If "they" don't want it then why is the BBC throwing cash trying to get them to do something they don't want to do? Don't you have a great reason to close Radio One?

    I can't help feeling that the closure of Radio 1 wouldn't contribute a single penny towards the output of high-quality, dumbed-up programing. Mind you, why on Earth should it if younger teenagers aren't interested in that? Think numbers.

  • Comment number 4.

    I agree with the twitter referance. NOBODY uses twitter, nobody i know anyway. Everybody uses facebook.

    For some reason the BBC on radio, TV and the internet keep shoving the idea down peoples throats that twitter is suddenly the new 'in' thing.

    Well it isn't. The only people who like twitter are vain celebrities which is why all the old folks working at the BBC go on about it, they think it makes them cool.

    Well it doesn't it's sad and egotistical.

  • Comment number 5.


    "it's sad and egotistical"

    ...and Facebook isn't? ;)

  • Comment number 6.

    Zane's show is a must.

    It really isn't.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    I agree, Twitter's uses are too limited for friend networks; excellent for fanning and bizbulletins. No one cares if I'm cooking a pizza. Radio is as dead as people are willing to go other places for their media addictions. Radio funding via adverts is dead. Difference is: Radio is live; her saving grace, even if pre-programmed. Try finding live anything else save a phone call. Text isn't live. Tweets aren't live. Social networks aren't live. Radio is broadcast; it's piped out real time. HighPrime info will get to you faster still via broadcast. Make sure your mobile has a radio. You'll be sucking your lips the day you need to know what's the ups and can't get a phone signal.

  • Comment number 10.

    Stop the presses! Teenagers claim to hate everything! Hardly new is it? The only thing that is more depressing than a bored, spoilt teenager banging on about how rubbish everything is, is a corporation like the BBC fussing after them like an old hen trying to get them interested and passionate about stuff when, for now, they simply can't see the point of getting out of bed in the afternoons. In their desperation to please a group of people who, almost by definition can't be pleased, the BBC radio stations have resorted to acting like teens, putting on broadcasters who can barely string two words together, dumbing down the news and current affairs, and having presenters yammer incessantly about where they've been and which celebs they've seen on their programmes rather than just play music! And for all the good it's done, you might just as well have not bothered! Why the BBC spends so much time and energy trying to engage with teens, when they simply don't want to be engaged with anything is beyond me. Just leave them alone!! Go about your business playing music, informing, educating, presenting. If they want to get involved they will. If you try and chase them, you'll just scare them away. BTW was the article written by a teenager? It's all over the place!

  • Comment number 11.

    " 5. At 3:58pm on 15 Jul 2009, dotconnect wrote:

    "it's sad and egotistical"

    ...and Facebook isn't? ;)"

    No it isn't because on facebook you are showing your information to your family and friends. On twitter anybody can 'follow' you which is why it is vain and egostistical.

    Celebs and BBC broadcasters like to compete with each other for how many of the plebs or 'civillians' as they like to call them follow them.

    It is incredibly eogstistical. Facebook is completely different.

  • Comment number 12.

    I think you will find that teenagers do not have "listening habits" - they have "hormone habits" - and if a bunch of media marketers think they have the answers to those hormones then I think they should visit somewhere like the Priory. Believing in your own fantasies is at least a third of the journey to madness. Or is is just plain stupidity?

  • Comment number 13.

    Teens are on the cusp of adulthood - the point where they realise that these corporations only want to engage with them for financial purposes. That their interest in teens is solely based in how much money they can wring out these consumer units. And the really amusing thing that the article highlights is that teens are behaving in exactly the way that these companies don't want - they are trying to get as much stuff for free as they can!

  • Comment number 14.

    So radio listening amongst teenagers is "declining - but still holding up?" Isn't that a contradiction?

  • Comment number 15.

    The BBC wants a younger audience. I wonder who, which person originally voiced what has now become the BBC's holy grail at great expense to the licence payer.

    The BBC alone does not recognise that our population is getting older by the minute; ipso facto (like that; I'll do it again) ipso facto, the younger folk will always be the minority audience.Conversely, the older folk will always form the majority audience. Simple. (Meerkat noise.)

    As someone rightly says, leave the teenagers to their teenageing.

    Children had the same treatment until Aunty Beeb's middle class Aunties and Uncles were found to be warbling and chirping to themselves when there were no kids in the vicinity sitting comfortably.

    No matter what there is to do, every teenager will tell you there is nothing to do. That's what being a teenager is all about. Well, it was in my day.

    Then I discovered R3. Joy, thrice joy. Mind you, even that is a changing in its search for, yes, a younger audience. Pah!

  • Comment number 16.

    I am struggling to understand what all the fuss is about, and why this is suddenly so novel, or why wall-street cares (given teenagers have no money according to the report).
    Why is it that we "adults" insist on viewing those "teenagers" as some foreign land, when we have all been there ourselves; do we develop amnesia at 20?
    Further, if we "adults" were all teenagers now, we would do the same thing, no doubt. This is nothing to do with teenage years as such, and everything to do with context.
    Comparing to my experience in the 80's:-
    1. Teenagers have no money
    It was ever thus; some are rich, most are poor.
    In reality, teenagers (via their parents) have access to vastly more products than previous generations.
    I recall saving for a portable radio with earphones in the 80's for 6 months, and then allowing 28 days for delivery.
    2. Teenagers don't read newspapers
    Shocking ..... ly, unsurprising.
    I'm sure some do, some don't.
    I'm sure that the proportions of who do and don't are probably the same as they were in the 90's, the 80's, the 70's etc
    3. Teenagers (male at least) talk to their friends when playing computer games
    Again, as a youth, I used to cycle to see friends, and play computer games at their homes; an vice versa.
    All the internet does is save the cycling part.
    Making phone calls was rare, because local calls were expensive back then.
    And yes, you would still call a girlfriend on the phone (land-line of course).
    4. Teenagers don't buy music
    Some do, and others borrow. With the casset in the 80's most teenagers would have a huge network for exchanging tape to tape music. Again, nothing new there.
    5. They don't bother listening to the radio
    In the 80's, again, you just taped what you wanted from the radio, and then listened to that. You never made time for listening to the radio as such.
    6. Cinema
    Again, sometimes you went, mostly you didn't. The video casset recorder saw to that in the 80's, as the DVD does today.
    7. Sony Erricson is the superior
    ... as was the Sony Walkman in the 80's.
    So again, why all the fuss?

  • Comment number 17.

    One of BBC Radio's problems is it's failure to promote programmes across the channels. I listen to R2, R4, R5, R6, World Service and Talksport. I have to check the websites to find out what 'specials' are on, or what topics are being covered. My 19 year old daughter listens to R1; the local independent radio station; and her iPOD which contains contemporary music plus 60's Kinks, Small Faces, Beatles. She's interested in anything to do with art, psychology and some young people's issues. My 21 year old son listens to R1, the local independent radio station and CD's: mostly the latest bands AND 60's/70's Rolling Stones. He's interested in sport, cars, films, the environment and current affairs. Neither could be bothered to check websites for programme information; it needs to be selectively promoted. Listeners to Radio 1 want choice and information, in addition to a particular type of music. Tell them when 'World Have Your Say' is discussing Drugs, Sex, Tatoos. Tell them when Radio 2 has a 'special' about the Beatles. Tell them about the latest comedy programme on Radio 4: don't forget 'Little Britain' started on R4.

    Here's a few of the topics covered on the World Service 6.00pm prog 'World Have Your Say.'

    Do you believe in fate?

    Many more would listen if they knew about it. Instead they turn R1 off when its style changes. I suspect individual station chiefs are too concerned about audience size for each channel, but as a licence funded service BBC can afford to take more risk with its audience.

  • Comment number 18.

  • Comment number 19.

    When the BBC, and of course all other media outlets, top reporting incomprehensive 'studies' such as these as being factual, evidence based findings, then your views on them will be of interest to me!

  • Comment number 20.

    I wonder, Mr McKenzie, do you think there may be a difference in the behaviour between middle class teens and working class teens? I ask because of the unhealthy interest you seem to have in "visualising" everything. Do you not believe in multitasking teens? Those who, for example, quite happily read Harry Potter and listen to music playing in the background in a middle class home, and the predominately working class with their portable music who listen and dance in a "public" place.

    Despite the many various ways kids can amuse themselves these days the core values of teen years are the same as ever. To become the individuals they aspire to be they distance themselves from anything that seeks to trap them. They are on their own unique journey to adulthood and we should thank our lucky stars that they are.

  • Comment number 21.

    I can understand that with an MP3 player, music radio is going to have problems with younger audiences, but the fact they are not listening to speech radio is also very important, and in particular speech radio. The best way to provide intelligent speech to the "under 40s" would be to get the BBC to create a "Radio 4 Remix" channel.

    R4R could take all the best bits from Radio 4 and reschedule them with a "younger" presentation. This would provide more linear opportunities to listen for this excellent speech radio output.

    There's plenty of room on the commercial digital multiplex, and space easily found on satellite, cable and Freeview.

    R4R would dispense with the longer news programmes, Woman's Hour, You and Yours, and provide all the comedy, analysis, history, science and drama (but not the Archers, please) on a stripped-and-stranded schedule.

    Existing (older) Radio 4 listeners could use R4R to "listen again", and other listeners could find the "intelligent speech" with a more lively, accessible schedule and presentation.

    For example, the afternoon drama could be on at 8pm. A selection of comedy and topical programmes from 6am-9am. Have a "Men's Hour" from 10am (history and science), comedy at 1pm, 6pm and 10pm.

  • Comment number 22.

    There are some interesting themes here about the use of media. The current model for broadcasting is a push model. "We send it you ... you can have it now" modified by 'listen again' or the use of the PVR. The object is the programme, and the attraction is the presenter/personalty. So for music it's background with chat..... in the "shade" more of less of Jimmy Young (or Brian Redhead for factuals.) These are supposed to keep us tuned. But actually there is a demand for selection and choice (Richard SM and Briantist. above0 Curiously even the BBC NEW MEDIA people are trapped. They want us to tag the programme "and tell your friends" while I want them to tag the programm and tell us what its is about.... (and even tag items within the programme) preferably linked to the schedules, so I can choose to catch something, (and why not tag the play list so we can catch a song or in my case a classical work.)
    Of course we might for a start have a fully functional text, audio and visual search engine that worked!

    Incidentally Kidbrook Arts College, Matthew Norman's school seems to have exactly the right demographic for at least London teen tastes and practices. Maybe R1 should send a staffer for 'work experience".... find the reality behind the 'hard research'

  • Comment number 23.

    #21 - Briantist.

    I'd buy that.

  • Comment number 24.

    Right, if the teenagers aren't listening to radio, quit revolving Radio 1 around them.
    Look at the latest DJ changes - you've taken off an experienced DJ, who actually knows a fair bit about music and replaced her with someone who knows very little. And you've put her on at a time when the teenagers will be at school.

    R1's target audience should not be age driven. It should be music taste driven. There are plenty 30-somethings who would like to listen to modern contemporary music, without being forced to go to Radio 2, and the choice of 6 Music is not a choice, as DAB is a pup.

  • Comment number 25.

    As a teenager, I never listen to the radio. In the car I have my iPod connected or a CD in because my particular taste in music (rock/metal) is not covered by any station (I get Rock Radio, local to Paisley/Glasgow, but it's aimed at middle aged people who quite rightly like to listen to music from their teenage years), beeb or comercial. The problem is this, why should I listen to half a dozen songs from artists I don't like before hearing a song that I already have on my iPod. I have yet to find a radio station that offers what I want, and if there is one then it will have a very narrow target audience. Music has become more diverse, radio stations cannot keep up. The closest I have got to listening to the radio is on Spotify, which has a specific tab for heavy metal, enables me to skip and pause songs and lets me select which decade to listen to. This did allow me to find a couple of bands that I had never heard of before so perhaps this is the future of music on the radio. As for chat shows, either what happens is I switch on to a political show where everyone speaks in the posh bbc voice and speaks about groups like teenagers as though we are incapable of coherent thought without consulting us. The other option is a presenter who insists on shouting over a loud drumbeat and trying to be young.

    "I think you will find that teenagers do not have "listening habits" - they have "hormone habits" "

    Well, I listen to music and the specific choice changes depending on who I'm with, the situation etc, surely that's a listening habit?

  • Comment number 26.

    Let's take Radio. It's true than the non-visual aspects of radio is less appealing for younger teenagers than 20-somethings. That's why Radio 1 is increasingly visualised - at the moment we are running Zane Lowe and Chris Moyles "in vision" live streamed.

    Radio listening among youngest teenagers is declining - but still holding up - and not every teenager is like every other teenager. For example if you want to check out new music and don't want to rely entirely on your mate's dodgy taste - Zane's show is a must.


    Uhh Rod - I am a fan of Radio 1 but you seem to be trying to force it onto teenagers because that's where it's supposed to be

    You provide no evidence that teenagers like radio 1, you just promote a new gimmick that is supposed to make them want to go to radio 1, then admit teenage listener numbers are declining, 'but holding up' - yes, but still declining...

    I never listened to radio as a teenager, and was never attracted to the fuddy-duddy BBC radio, now I'm in my twenties I actually listen to it

    I know you have to support the official line, but really it's time to reassess radio 1's purpose - it's pointless aiming at teenagers, radio 1 is listened to by millions, but they aren't kids, you need to start realising that or your various enemies are going to get in first and attempt to sell off the channel for 'failing' (as reported in yesterday's daily mail)


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