Disrupting traditional media

October 4, 2020

An excellent marker of how different digital media consumption is for the three different age groups is language itself

Photo courtesy: Getty 

Lip-syncing and dancing videos on TikTok. Urdu drama serials on YouTube. Clips of K-pop concerts on Instagram. When it comes to entertainment, the digital world is offering many things to many people in Pakistan.

Back in the ’80s and ’90s, there were a channel or two with a specific set of shows. Entertainment was split by age, i.e. there was something for youngsters, something for the parents and something for the grandparents.

Traditional media has since then mushroomed into an all-you-can-eat buffet. Digital platforms are going a step further by not only giving traditional media new life, but also diving into forms of content that were previously not possible. Even the most obscure niche now has a platform to put itself on, and an audience ready to take a bite.

Between 2019 and 2020, the number of internet users in Pakistan jumped by 17 percent taking the figure to 76.38 million. The number of social media users also jumped by seven percent between April 2019 and January 2020. Look closely and you will see that different age groups are not only consuming different things online, but also doing so using different platforms.

To say that the entertainment industry has been thoroughly disrupted would be an understatement. Technology is no longer expanding just because of Generation X, Generation Y and Generation Z (Gen Z), baby boomers are helping develop new trends, too.

Creating the entertainment

It is interesting to see different age groups define their own corners in the digital realm.

While baby boomers are more focused on consuming or resharing content, millennials and Gen Y/Z are not just enjoying what is provided to them, they become content creators themselves.

Never has user-generated content held such attention in the entertainment sphere. The younger age groups exhibit a need to be part of the content they are consuming. There is a unique connectedness to content, in that it mutates into something else when Gen Y and Z are involved.

This involvement pushes a sense of community in those producing and consuming content. There is no “and they lived happily ever after” because someone is always ready to continue the story, or the conversation.

This is in stark contrast to how media is used and consumed by baby boomers. In the past, concepts like the Magic Bullet Theory were useful in explaining how ideas are transferred to an audience. The media has a gun from which an idea is fired directly into a viewer’s head. This theory does not hold true for the newer generations, who grab the gun and begin shooting everywhere at random. Unsurprisingly, this pattern is yet to break for older generations.

This is the reason that curated or ‘official’ seeming content is not just vastly trusted by older people, it is also widely disseminated through platforms they do not yet fully understand. One example of this is the prevalent sharing of hoaxes and conspiracy theories relating to Covid-19. An average millennial would not acquire information from a meme, but an average baby boomer does not make the effort to tell the difference between a meme and a news piece.

No time for that

Content is also getting shorter and shorter. Shows like Lucifer, which had an average of 26 episodes are returning with eight with each new season. Episodes that were an hour and a half long are just 45 minutes. But people do not have time for content even that long.

This is not surprising, given that millennials have an attention span of just 12 seconds, and Generation Z eight. Both groups toggle between three to five screens as they consume media. Meanwhile boomers stay focused on one device at a time.

The use patterns of younger people are time oriented, in that they have time for nothing. To accommodate the need for speed presented by both the younger age groups, platforms like YouTube have introduced features that allow them to zoom through videos.

You can quite literally set your video to two times its original speed to get through it faster. Much to the dismay of content purists – and Hollywood heavyweights - even platforms like Netflix are now allowing people to speed up or slow things down with new speed controls.

A different language

An excellent marker of how different digital media consumption is for the three different age groups is language itself. Here too, the amount of time someone is willing to spend on consuming media or producing it is vastly different between the three groups.

Baby boomers are very text oriented. This shows not just in their consumption habits but also how they interact with people. Getting a poem accompanied by an image of a flower from one’s old parents has become a very normal thing on WhatsApp.

Meanwhile, the other two groups are less and less interested in reading or writing too much. The things they do interact with are agenda focused, and often political. There is no space for a rose or a poem about it.

While millennials can still be caught writing some text with their posts, they gravitate more towards memes and videos that can convey their sentiment.

This is evident not just in the content they consume but also in how they interact with one another. Use of excessive acronyms for basic conversation is fairly normal for this age group.

Celebs of a parallel universe

There are a slew of influencers born on TikTok, for instance, that often people who fall into the baby boomer or Gen Z category have never heard of.

Boomers and their counterparts grew up on the cult of personality. This can be observed in millennials to an extent as well, but the story is entirely different for those younger than them. The cult of personality has been replaced by ‘YouTube influencer of the moment’.

Gen Y and those that came after them are also not into drawing boundaries or building boxes. Recently BTS, a Korean boy band, took a stand for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Given how vastly unconnected the two are, no one would have made the link. But fans of the group pushed for them to be more vocal. Personal is political for many youngsters consuming media these days because of their need for authentic connection. This push for connectedness can be seen in the media that is being created as well.

The difference between consumption patterns can be explained through the simple example of Victoria’s Secret. Boomers and baby boomers defend it till date as the brand that sets the standards for beauty. Gen Z not only found it inauthentic and harmful, they rallied against it till the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was cancelled – by virtue of it becoming irrelevant.

This is a generation that was raised after the internet became a thing;that micro-influencers and v-loggers are the people building narratives and pushing new conversations through their content is not surprising.

Where the older generations are more comfortable allowing people in authority to speak for them and to them, those in the younger generation want to take up that space themselves. They will speak for themselves, and they will do it in eight seconds.

The writer is a journalist and  researcher based in Lahore. She tweets at @luavut

Disrupting traditional media