Nielsen Research: Kids and Millennials Are Glued to Their Phones

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Kids on cellphones

Smartphones for kids today are as common a part of growing up as the marbles or yo-yo’s of yesteryear, so it comes as no huge surprise via two new studies by Nielsen that more kids than ever before have smartphones—and are glued to them; and that millennials are also struggling with the same challenge.

First up, the state of mobile youths, as released as the 2017 Mobile World Congress is underway in Barcelona. Nielsen’s latest Mobile Kids Report surveyed parents of US kids ages 6-12 in the fourth quarter of last year about their offspring’s mobile habits.

The topline findings: Slightly less than half (45%) of mobile-using kids received a service plan at 10-12 years old, with the predominant age being 10 (22%), followed by 8 years old (16%) and ages 9 and 11 tied at 15%.

More boys (56%) than girls (44%) aged 6-12 own a mobile device, with one in five being Hispanic.
Among 10 to 12-year-olds, the highest percentage of age represented was age 10 at 34%. The vast majority (93%) are on a shared wireless plan with their parents, and 72% have all-mobile wireless services including voice, messaging and data.

Ninety prevent of parents surveyed identified being able to reach their kids as the top reason for wireless service before the age of 13—with the advent of middle school in the US a big motivating factor—while 80% of parents said it also allows them to track his or her location.

For kids with wireless service, speaking on the phone is the least attractive part of a smartphone; top activities include text messaging (81%), downloading apps (59%) and accessing websites (53%).

Parents’ concerns about kids and mobile devices include how easily the phone could be lost (77%), how much of a distraction it could be (72%); and concerns (expressed by 71%) that kids will spend too much time on it. Sixty percent of parents also report their child began asking for wireless service before the age of 13 – repeatedly.

According to parents surveyed, the antidote to these concerns include better safety controls and features to block inappropriate content (55%), better usage controls to limit access (48%) and better service plan options for children (34%).

The findings are in line with a study published last year by Common Sense Media found that 50 percent of children admitted they were addicted to their smartphones. Additionally, it found that 66 percent of parents felt their children used mobile devices too much—and 52 percent of children agreed. Nearly 36 percent of parents said they argued daily with their children about device use.

“Mobile devices are fundamentally changing how families go about day-to-day lives, be it doing homework, driving, or having dinner together,” said James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense. “As a society we all have a responsibility to take media use and addiction seriously and make sure parents have the information to help them make smart choices for their families.”


Nielsen also this week released its first comprehensive and cross-platform look at Millennials — and yes, they’re pretty much as distracted and glued to their mobile devices as kids (and everyone else) these days.

As Nielsen notes, “Millennials—now the largest generational group in the U.S.—have grown alongside advancements in technology and media platforms, placing them in intriguing territory with regard to media habits. When it comes to television, their eyes are glued to the screen. With commercials, they’re still tuned in—but their eyes are on their cell phones.”

Nielsen’s inaugural Millennials on Millennials report is unique in two ways: It offers critical insight into the evolving media habits of this highly digital demographic, and it was produced by a team of Nielsen Millennial associates keen to help clients engage and reach a generation that every modern marketer is seeking a connection with.

As marketers and advertisers look for the best opportunities to reach this demographic, they need precise insight into the evolving viewing and consumption habits of Millennials, which are closely watched and coveted.

Three key trends that the report uncovered:

Nielsen 2017 millennials study time spent media

MILLENNIALS LOVE TV-CONNECTED DEVICES: TV still constitutes the majority of video consumption, but every other screen is much more valuable to Millennials. TV-connected devices (DVD players, VCRs, game consoles and digital streaming devices) compose four times the percentage of Millennials’ total video minutes than adults 35 and older: TV-connected devices account for 23% of Millennials’ total time with video, compared with just 6% for consumers 35 and older. And as a result, Millennials spend about 27% less time watching traditional TV (89% among 35+ vs. 66% among Millennials).

MILLENNIALS ARE A DISTRACTED AUDIENCE: The report looked at a handful of popular, primetime TV programs to understand the dynamics of multi-tasking and attention among Millennials compared with other generations. During premiere episodes of various primetime programs in the fall of 2015, Millennials were least likely to change the channel during commercial breaks.

Less than 2% of 18-34 year olds changed the channel during commercials, compared with 5.5% of 35-54 year olds and more than 8% of viewers 55 and older. Given their engagement with other devices, however, Millennials had the lowest program engagement and lowest ad memorability scores during the studied shows.

Nielsen millennial study 2017 advertising

Knowing that audiences, including Millennials, may opt to skip advertising if given the choice, content providers often disable ad-skipping features in their VOD content. In terms of openness to advertising, however, Millennials are quite open to viewing ads as long as the content they are viewing is free on their mobile devices. As a result, marketers and advertisers have a notable opportunity to present their value propositions to young viewers who are tapping into the realm of content available via their connected devices.

Upon further review of Millennial habits during commercials, these viewers report that they’re most likely to use their phones—a prime outlet to engage with social media. Smartphones provide a plethora of ways users can engage with other forms of content and social media serves as a notable slice of that pie.

Nielsen millennial study 2017

Given their engagement with social media during commercial breaks, it’s not surprising that Millennials score lower than older generations when it comes to ad memorability. Nielsen’s recent Millennial Media Advisors Report notes that TV ads have an average memorability of 38% among Millennials, 10 percentage points lower than among Gen X’ers 35 and over (48%).

The low memorability rates, however, don’t stem from a dislike of advertisements. Rather, Millennials understand the necessity of ads in order for brands to inform the public of their products and services (79%) and many say that overall, ads don’t bother them (46%)—especially if the content they’re viewing is free (75%).

SOCIAL MEDIA STARS ARE “CELEBRITIES”: Among Millennials, social media stars are becoming synonymous with the word “celebrity.” In a write-in section of our custom survey, numerous respondents named several social media stars multiple times when asked: “Please list your current top five favorite celebrities.” When tested against mainstream stars, social media stars hold their own in terms of celebrity status. For example, according to Nielsen’s N-Score, a measure of a celebrity’s marketability, male Millennials have a higher opinion of trending social media stars than they do for sports stars, pop stars, actors and actresses.

Nielsen millennials 2017 study social media influencers

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