Ofcom’s Children’s Media Lives project has produced it’s second report – following the media lives of 8-15 year olds in the UK over a three year period to understand how they interact with (and react to) different media. The report provides a qualitative insight into this audience and can help us to understand the changing way that people will come to interact with content, brands and each other online.

This update provides particularly useful insight in three areas: what is considered to be ‘TV’, how this audience searches for content online, and how the interact with advertising.

1. Just what do they consider ‘watching TV’?

For this audience TV does not refer to a device through which they watch video content. They have a very broad understanding of what ‘watching TV’ is – from YouTube to Netflix to ‘traditional’ TV channels. They use the same term because, for them, it is the same process – they are watching film content on a screen. The phrase ‘watching TV’ has become denuded of some of its specific meaning and is now more general.

And whilst watching TV may mean many things, they are most likely to be watching it on catch-up or on-demand. For them, TV now fits round their lives, rather than fitting their lives round TV. This reflects the patterns of the wider community too as family viewing is now typically on-demand or catch-up rather than live TV.


2. How do they search?

The children in the study have a more nuanced approach to search than many other audiences might – rather than defaulting to Google, they use different channels and sites depending on their need state and the kind of content they are looking for. For text they tend to go to Google or, increasingly, direct to Wikipedia (acting as a proxy search engine); for images and video to Google Image Search and YouTube respectively. These children are pre-selecting the medium of the content they are looking for and then searching in a different way, on a different platform depending on this.

And wherever they search, they invariably consider the first (unsponsored) link to be the best answer to their question. They are likely to click on this link and only this link.

3. How do they interact with advertising?

While all ages recognised adverts on TV as adverts, only the older children recognised display advertising as such. The defining characteristic as to whether adverts were considered as such is how much they interrupt the other things that they are doing – TV adverts interrupt the show they are watching, pop-ups do the same; banner ads don’t interrupt and can be passively ignored.

And in all cases the children had developed their own patterns for skipping this advertising as soon as possible – ignoring it, looking over it. When confronted with in-game advertising, for example, the children would leave their phone and mute and go and do something else while the adverts played out. They knew they were coming and had strategies to avoid them.


When explored further, it is interesting to consider their perception of advertising vs entertainment. It is ‘advertising’ that is overlooked by them, but entertaining content they are willing to watch – not necessarily questioning who it comes from or who might be paying for it.

What can we learn from this?

The report begins to tell a coherent and useful story of the way this emerging audience consumers and interacts withe content. On one hand they have a more nuanced understanding of the types of content they consume (TV doesn’t just have to be on a TV channel on a box in the corner of the room, for example) but there is a level of trust in content that further promotes the need for media literacy among this audience.

The attitude to advertising connects advertising with ‘interruptive’ (and so ignored) – content from brands that is seen as entertaining (rather than interrupting what they are doing) is more likely to be consumed and engaged with. This more nuanced understanding is important for agencies and brands to explore – especially when it comes to media placement. Even the most engaging content will not necessarily perform well with this audience if it interrupts them when they are doing something else, rather than being served to them at the right time.

How this emerging audience consumes and reacts to content can teach us much about how the industry needs to change and adapt, but also to how many other audiences will soon behave also.

Matt Rhodes

About Matt Rhodes

Head of Digital Strategy for work. Marathon runner and charity trustee for fun.

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