Is Nielsen 'Myth Busting' Or Just Bolstering Traditional Media?

Tech Crunch posted Nielsen’s new report on How Teens Use Media, which is structured in sort of a myths vs. reality format similar to what Fuse’s Bill Carter presented (.pdf) at the Ypulse Youth Marketing Mashup. I’m not a researcher and don’t know how Nielsen actually measures engagement, but I’m just not convinced that some of their myth busting is a reflection of what’s really happening vs. wishful thinking on the behalf of the traditional media ecosystem of which Nielsen is an integral part.

For example, the reality that teens (who are in school all day and often in activities after school) spend less time online than adults, many of whom are connected to the internet at work, isn’t really surprising at all. I found the part about who media multitasks more to be a bit weak as well. On the flipside, I found Nielsen’s numbers on how many teens now have mobile internet access (as of fall of ‘09) were shockingly higher than I thought they would be—37 percent of all teen (13-17) mobile subscribers! I thought I would pull out a two of the more surprising “myths” Nielsen allegedly debunks with their research/realities and offer some Ypulse-y “possibilities.”

Myth: Teens are abandoning TV for new media Nielsen says “not so,” TV viewing is up 6 percent (3 hours and 20 minutes a day) vs. 52 minutes spent on a PC, they don’t use DVRs and and don’t watch as much online video as their older peers.

Possibility: TV might be on but are they really watching? Don Tapscott had a great image in his Mashup presentation featuring his son and his friends “watching” TV - they were all doing other things while the TV was on. It’s possible teens could be doing their homework (with actual books) in front of the TV or be doing stuff on their phones. No it’s not “10 screens at a time” but it may not be focused TV watching either. If you ask teens about TV, which I have on multiple teen panels that I’ve moderated over the past few years, many teens and young adults have said they don’t watch much TV anymore. When prodded with specific show titles, like “Family Guy,” they admit they do watch some. But when asked whether they still watch MTV, well, sorry MTV, they’re just not that into you as a network, though when pushed, they will admit to watching a specific MTV show. And if you ask them if they had to give up their TV or the internet, the internet always triumphs over TV as the essential technology.  I would also speculate that as teens get older and more mobile and less homebound (i.e. have a driver’s license), the time goes down as well. So yes, they are still “watching,” but the reality is that the era of traditional television broadcasting as the dominant form of media with little competition has begun to decline.

Myth: Teens wouldn’t know a newspaper if the paperboy hit them in the face. Nielsen is claiming that more than 1 in 4 teens say they read a daily newspaper and over a third read the Sunday paper.

Possibility: Um….the teens they asked thought they meant Yahoo! News? Wanted to sound “smart”? Have ended up on newspaper sites via Google? Have a newspaper as an option on their PDA start page? Glance at a newspaper over breakfast? Sorry - this one just sounds too high.

The section of the report that addressed terrestrial radio just seemed like positive spin—16 percent of U.S. teens still listen! That doesn’t feel like a good number for radio, especially since it’s also no longer THE source for where teens discover music.

Definitely read the whole report and let us know what you think!


  1. Daniel Griswold

    I’m with Anastasia on this one.  I’m at the tip of the Internet generation having been born in 1982, and I’ve been working with youth for a while now, I know for certain that the results of this report are nominal. 

    1) I’ve never seen a teen read a newspaper that was not electronic.  I’ve also never heard a teen tell me they got their info from a newspaper.  Youtube, Blogs, and Google/Google News seem to be the most popular sources of info all AFTER word of mouth. I’m willing to bet that teens hear info from Adults and pass it along quite a bit.

    2) Students spend most of their time in school or doing homework.  Then comes family time and personal enrichment.  I’ve found that most students are so busy keeping up with school, they either get news on the go from a handheld, or they talk about news they hear peripherally and interact with it (develop opinions) in groups.

    As for myself, I get my news from blogs and Google News as well as some carefully picked apps on my itouch.  (NYT, WSJ, Bloomberg, AP, USA Today, Google NEWS).  The only reason a paper gets bought is for coupons and electronic/retail/supermarket sales ads.

    The television tends to be highly specific in teen conversations from personal experience.  They hear about a show from word of mouth (ex. Gossip Girl, Mythbusters) and when they have time, they watch that show.  I’d be willing to bet that most television watching is done in condensed periods of time. Ex. Vacation periods, Saturdays.  And it will be done while multitasking - Texting/IMing, emailing, Facebooking.

    Interesting Report though.  Thanks for the insight Anastasia.

  2. Tom Kasperski

    The stats on newspaper consumption certainly raises an eyebrow. And I concur with your observation on “watching” TV. This also applies to adults.

  3. Eric Jaffa

    Reading a newspaper article online isn’t any less educational than reading that article in paper-format.

    Newspapers charge more for print ads, though, and perhaps the researcher should have tried to distinguish for that reason.

  4. Nic


    Thanks for your feedback on our new report.  You’re right to meet a lot of these facts with skepticism – that’s the whole point of the report!  As the media universe expanded, the industry made big assumptions about teens.  This report corrects some of those assumptions. 

    More to your point (and headline) about bias: you’re right that research MUST be looked at in the context of who puts it out.  This is one of the reasons there’s so much hype on teens!  Numerous brands, agencies and publications rely on the “teens are alien” theme to be relevant.  Yes, Nielsen is an integral part of the “traditional media ecosystem.”  But the world is bigger now.  Our clients evolved to be more than TV companies and so have we, meaning we’re now an integral part of not just traditional media, but also new media.  Our clients pay us to give them the facts and provide third-party guidance in a fragmented media world: not to be champions of one medium over another.  We’re fortunate to be able to look at the world holistically rather than be wed to the successes or failures of one particular medium or demographic segment.  To get a better sense for Nielsen’s breadth, check out our insights blog at

    Now, a couple of thoughts on your hypotheses around some of the realities we’ve put forth (though I’ll mostly leave it to your readers to discuss):

    TV: “TV might be on but are they really watching?”
    Great question – and we address that skepticism some in the paper in the section on advertising.  Yes, teens tend to be less attentive to television than adults, but only by about 16%.  And when they do see a TV ad?  They are 44% more likely to like it.

    On “one in four read a newspaper”: You’re spot on – this high number suggests that today’s teens aren’t necessarily delineating between print and online.  In some ways, maybe we shouldn’t either.  Asked whether, on a typical day, they read “a daily newspaper,” it’s likely that some of today’s teens are including their visits to online news sites – which are quite popular with teens.  In the U.S., more than 60% of teens visit news sites (not in the paper).

    On Radio – 16% is just the figure for those counting it as a PRIMARY source and another 21% say it’s their secondary source.  It’s true that the Internet and MP3 players have become the most important sources of music for this generation, but that’s the case for most age groups.  If this seems to be positive spin, I offer that, for an industry that many suspect otherwise dead, the combined 37% relying on radio as either primary or secondary IS a positive bit of information: as evidenced by radio trade coverage of the news.  Your broader point on music discovery is important one.  Certainly the PC is playing an important role here, but teens do still get music information on the radio, though.  Our global survey of teens (the same that discussed primary/secondary sources) shows that radio, PC and TV all play about as important a role as one another in music discovery, today (not included in the report).

    Thanks very much for giving the new report a read, for your thoughtful critique of the themes and for sharing it with your audience.  For you and your readers I hope that it is a helpful, level-setting collection of insights that, taken on the whole, reminds us that teens are much more normal than some expect. 

    Though not alien, this segment deserves forums of focused attention as any demographic group does, so please keep up the great work exploring this audience at Ypulse.

    The Nielsen Company

  5. Kathy H

    I have a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old, and they glance at the printed newspaper each day and (unfortunately) watch tv more than they used to since we got a new flat screen. Their favorite way to get information is via magazines. Their favorites are The Week and Time. It’s easy to curl up on the couch with those and they know I won’t get mad at them for wasting time.

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  7. Paul Metz

    I feel the skepticism about teens reading newspapers is unfounded, or at least, uninformed.  Our company conducts a large-scale research effort each year (nearly 8,000 interviews each month) among kids, tweens and teens in the U.S.( Our Youthbeat data on newspaper readership corroborates Nielsen’s findings.  In fact, our data suggests that readership may even be higher (39%) among teens than Nielsen’s data.  Our numbers, however, include both regular plus occasional readers of newspapers.  We did not make a distinction between paper and online versions of “newspapers”, so I would guess that both our number and Nielsen’s includes teens who read either analog or digital versions of the news. 
    So, given this data, I believe that if there is a “myth” among youth marketers that teens do not read the newspaper, that Nielsen’s report does in fact bust that myth.  And the caution to those who work in a tech or digital vertical is to guard against viewing the entire youth market through a digital lens.

    Paul Metz
    C&R Research

  8. anastasia

    Hey Paul. Nice to hear from you. My skepticism was around them reading physical newspapers as I commented on how the question was asked—whether teens were defining “newspapers” as just online news, which they typically get from portals or other news aggregators as well as being a little skeptical of what “read” meant vs. glance at or even the possibility that a teen might say yes when the answer is really no (though I was the least serious about that comment). Folks from the newspaper industry have called young people “news grazers” as a result. Given that the current industry is still based around a print product, I actually think it’s important to understand whether teens are reading the paper in print form, “grazing” online or going to specific newspaper sites, and even whether they are reading from home or school (where it is sometimes part of a class).

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