3 generations of media

whtntv5

I decided to study what was termed Mass Communication when cable TV was young. Brand new course offerings at UT’s Moody College speculated about the mind-boggling array of emerging channels and introduced the concept of “narrow-casting”  (popular now in internet marketing as “finding a niche“) in contrast to traditional broadcasting which had sought the “lowest common denominator” (explained disapprovingly by Brandon Monk here). 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 but by then I left MTV along with the music.

Designing something on my own and immediately printing or sending it became attractive to me. 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 do-it-yourself technology. The popularity of Facebook, blogging and editing photos and video with our own devices attests to my generation’s morphing into the first mass digital creators for both TV and internet.

Millennials are slivercasting niche interactive media still further, but as far as 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 but they seem tech forward for their age.)
  • Email Senders and Facebook posters, who are getting hooked on commercial free streaming video services which we still often watch on a big TV. We like to text also, but our texts are much longer than Millennials’ and often look more like emails. While we still occasionally flip through a printed magazine or read a paperback, most of our media consumption is online.
  • Social media junkies who watch short videos on YouTube and Snapchat. My Gen Z child only watches our big TV if it’s family movie night. All “her” media is consumed on a gaming PC, laptop or iPhone. She texts her friends at lightning speed and only uses email for teachers or her grandmas.

Any mass media outlet should think about these different audiences. Something new will be coming around for Gen Z but take heed – Newspaper Readers will still be around for quite a while yet!

Top photo: Moody College of Communication studio at my alma mater UT Austin. Courtesy utexas.edu.
Insert: WOWK-TV Channel 13 in Huntington, West Virginia circa 1955. Courtesy WHTN in Nashville.

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