Generation Y Don’t You?

I can remember as a kid spending what seemed like endless, sunny summer holidays staying with my gran, watching children’s TV programmes in the mornings on her old three channel TV. One of my favourite shows at that time was ‘Why Don’t You?’. Or to give it its full title, ‘Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Out and Do Something Less Boring Instead?’.

Of course, as a child, it always seemed like a bit of a confused message: a TV programme entertaining you by telling you to not watch TV and go and do something else. It never seemed to work with me, much to my gran’s frustration.

But perhaps ‘Why Don’t You?’ was just ahead of its time. I’ve been doing some research on millennials (the generation between 18-34 who came of age on or after the year 2000) and it turns out millennials have taken ‘Why Don’t You?’’s message to heart.

Young people are switching off their television sets. The number of young adults watching TV is dropping rapidly. Between 2010 and 2013, 16-24 year olds in the UK watched 14% less TV, and that drop is from an already low base. Of course, some would say they are simply switching devices. Millennials are the smartphone generation and are most likely to be streaming music, watching films on YouTube or posting to social media. According to Nielsen research, YouTube now reaches more US adults aged 18-34 than any cable network. So they may have switched off the TV but are they doing something less boring instead?

Well, perhaps. Candy Crush certainly doesn’t play itself, but we need to be careful not to view their use of devices through the lens of traditional media consumption. As children, we could only watch TV, we couldn’t participate in the shows. Modern technology turns millennials not simply into consumers of content but creators and curators of it.

Pew Research from the US suggests almost 4 in 5 millennials are posting pictures they take to social media and a half are posting their own films, almost double the number for any other age group. But it is what they are posting about that helps us truly to understand millennials. They are all about the experience. Millennials want to post and share pictures and films about amazing experiences and inspiring moments – whether that’s with their friends, at events and in special places. They want to go out and see and do things, sharing moments with their friends via social media all the time.

Hence why Millennials are behind the rapid growth in spending on live events in the US and the most likely of all age groups to have attended a live music or arts event in the UK in the last year (81%). According to TripAdvisor, when they book holidays, unlike older groups, it is the activities and experiences available that come first, ahead of other features like the quality of accommodation.

There is also evidence that millennials are more engaged in other ways. They are behind the recent rise in sports participation like football and running. According to Sport England, the number of 16-24 year olds who run at least once a week, for example, has risen by more than a third since 2006. We all get to hear how they are doing too, as their latest smartphone app shares updates to our social media sites. Similarly, while it is true that millennials are turning their back on traditional political activities, they are driving a growth in community engagement. Almost half consider themselves as a supporter of no political party, and yet 16-24 year olds are the group most likely to have volunteered in the last twelve months and that number is increasing year on year.

Generation Y are not all the flip-flop wearing, lazy narcissists that the media sometimes portrays. In fact, they have done something my generation consistently failed to do. They’ve switched off the TV and many have gone and done something more interesting instead. Twenty years after the final showing of ‘Why Don’t You?’, it has finally had an impact. Oh, my gran would have been pleased.

This article was drawn from a talk Matt gave on ‘What really makes millennials tick?’ at Property Week’s Student Accommodation Conference on 3rd December 2014.

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