- Youth Audiences and the Media in the Digital Era:The Intensification of Multimedia Engagement and Interaction
Youth audiences in possession of disposable income, and the time and inclination to spend it, have long been a demographic valued by the media industries, both as the consumers of media content and as the "product" sold to advertisers.1 However, the generations born after 1995 into capitalist, technologically advanced, first-world environments—who have grown up with digital entertainment interfaces offering heightened opportunities for interaction, participation, and control over their preferred entertainment experiences—are abandoning traditional, industry-regulated forms of [End Page 133] media consumption.2 These developments signal an era of upheaval for legacy media, which are being forced to grapple with rapidly evolving audience behaviors, an expanding range of competing (online) entertainment options, and the intensification of (digital) piracy, all of which are challenging the traditional ways in which entertainment is being produced, delivered, accessed, and consumed.
How have the growth and widespread adoption of digital technologies altered how contemporary youth audiences use and consume entertainment media? How are legacy media responding to the challenges of targeting and attracting youth audiences who are increasingly distracted by an expanding range of new media entertainment options? Within the limits of these few pages, I restrict my discussion to contemporary youth's evolving interactions with entertainment media and detail how two specific youth-oriented television series—Glee (Fox, 2009–2015) and Scream (MTV, 2015–) have attempted to co-opt new media's heightened potential for interactivity and fan engagement to more effectively target youth audiences.
The emergence of new digital media technologies has directly disrupted the analog status quo. While the structures and practices of "old" legacy media are built on a notion of mass communication, in which content and information is linear and flows from a single source to many recipients, new media's open, largely unregulated structure and low barriers to entry offer the opportunity for content and information to flow from many sources to many recipients. In addition, there is a perception that the new media environment allows content producers and distributors, and media users, consumers, and audiences alike to freely interact and to mutually and simultaneously participate in both the creation and the consumption of media content.3 Where analog media ensured that entertainment content was historically encountered and consumed on regulated schedules, in specific venues and spaces, via distinct devices and technologies, while offering identifiably disparate experiences, digital's promise of cross-media "convergence" is dissolving the barriers between different forms of media and their content, and ensuring that multiple forms of media entertainment can be enjoyed across an expanding range of multipurpose digital communication devices.4
In the digital age, computer, tablet, and mobile phone screens are supplanting the traditional movie and television screen. Digital devices afford media consumers greater independence, choice, and agency with regard to how, where, and when they consume their entertainment, easily circumventing broadcast or release schedules imposed by content providers or distributors, nullifying traditional audience-measuring systems, and disrupting the once-stable advertising model.5 Increasingly, youth audiences in the [End Page 134] twenty-first century are accessing their media at the touch of a button (or touchscreen), free from geographical or temporal constraints. Significantly, while a 2015 study of US tweens (eight- to twelve-year-olds) and teens (thirteen to eighteen) offers positive news for the entertainment industries, revealing that youth continue to spend significant amounts of time accessing and enjoying media—nine hours for teens and six hours for tweens daily, with television watching and listening to music dominating their activities—the survey also notes developments that point to the erosion of traditional media's control over youth media consumption habits. Where television viewing is concerned, teens reportedly spend "only half (50 percent) of all [their] TV and video-viewing time watching TV programming on a TV set"; the other 50 percent of the time they spend on digital devices and mobile gadgets—in fact, US tweens spent 41 percent of all their screen time on mobile devices, as compared to 46 percent for teens.6
Furthermore, the statistics for traditional television viewing reveal startling declines in younger...