3 generations of media

I decided to study mass communication when cable TV was young. Brand new course offerings at UT Austin speculated about the mind-boggling array of emerging channels and introduced the concept of “narrow-casting” in contrast to traditional broadcasting which had sought the “lowest common denominator.” Tastes were becoming divided and specialized for demographics that were very valuable to advertisers.

Internet was still to come. Email was just for work, and smart phones were decades away. The notion that an audience like teens or golfers could be cherry-picked for targeted marketing had just come to life.

I think one of the things that attracted me to television, the industry I focused on in college and worked in for 15 years, was cable programming directed to my particular interests (at the time it was music). Later on, after we got computers and internet at home I could  create my own graphics. When reality TV took over my job, editing video was still pretty clunky. Then I left MTV along with the music.

Designing something on my own and immediately printing or sending it became very attractive to me as a media professional. I think just as Gen X-ers got used to having our “Twenty-something” programs tailored to our interests, we also got access to new technology. The popularity of Facebook, blogging and editing photos and video with our own devices attests to my generation’s morphing into the first of the mass digital creators for both TV and internet.

Millennials are taking media to yet another stage. But for now, designing graphics for marketing in a multi-media era, I clearly see three broad audiences:

  • Newspaper Readers, who only watch a few channels on mostly live TV and don’t use internet much. This is my parents’ generation and older, though my parents themselves are quite media savvy and spend most of their retirement days on their desktop computers. They do like their smart phones, too, but they are tech forward for their age.
  • Email Senders and Facebook posters, who are getting hooked on streaming video services. We like to text also, but our texts are much longer than Millennials’ and often look more like emails. We will still occasionally flip through a printed magazine or read a paperback, but most of our media consumption is online.
  • Social Media Junkies who watch short videos on YouTube, Vine or the latest app. My daughter, a tween from Gen Z, will only watch our big screen TV if it’s family movie night.Her video consumption is on YouTube. She texts her friends at lightning speed and only uses email for teachers or her grandmas. (Still think she’s too young for Instagram or Snapchat).

Any mass media outlet should think about these three groups. As soon as something new comes along for Gen Z, you can add the fourth. But take heed – Newspaper Readers are still gonna be around for quite a while!

WHTN-TV studio circa 1955, from “History of WHTN-TV/WOWK, Huntington

Moody College of Communication studio at my alma mater UT Austin.


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