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No Big Demand for Small Screen

Tech-savvy young people aren't as eager to watch TV on their cellphones and iPods as networks might think.

August 10, 2006|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

Before Kaitlyn Brown headed to church camp this summer, her mother outfitted the 13-year-old with a sleek new Sprint phone that boasts one of the newest features on the market: mobile television.

"Me and my mom thought it would be a cool thing," said the soon-to-be seventh-grader, who lives in Spring Branch, Texas. But after watching a couple of jerky transmissions of comedy clips on the phone's display panel, Brown quickly became disenchanted.

"It kept stopping midstream and stuff," she said. "I didn't really like it, so I took it off. It was extra money, and I didn't think it was worth it."

She's not alone.

Entertainment purveyors may be scrambling to package their content into mobisodes, video downloads and podcasts, but a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found that teens and young adults -- the generation most likely to be the early adopters of this new technology -- have yet to fully embrace it.

About half of young adults and 4 in 10 teenagers said they were uninterested in watching television shows or movies on computers, cellphones or hand-held devices such as video iPods, the poll found.

While more than 2 out of 5 teens and young adults indicated they were open to viewing this kind of content online, only 14% of teenagers said they wanted to watch television on a cellphone, and 17% said they would view programs on an iPod.

The findings suggest that networks are rushing to package content for these new platforms before even tech-savvy young consumers are hankering for the "third screen" experience.

The survey, which asked a wide range of questions about entertainment consumption, highlighted the pervasive influence of television particularly on tween girls, a majority of whom reported that TV shows affected their dress, speech, music preferences or social activities. In addition, it found that a surprisingly high number of teenagers and young adults gleaned news from traditional media sources such as local television and network newscasts -- for many through a sort of information osmosis as they absorbed news from programs their parents were watching.

Perhaps most intriguing, however, was the indication of a widespread indifference toward small-screen viewing among teenagers and young adults. While many in the industry expect the demand for such content to rise dramatically in the coming years, the poll offered clues to a consumer reluctance that first must be overcome.

In follow-up interviews with those surveyed, many young people said they were intrigued by the notion of getting their entertainment on devices such as cellphones and iPods. But two major obstacles have so far dampened their enthusiasm: the cost and the uneven quality of the experience.

"It just seems like a needless expense to me," said Mark Lopez, a 23-year-old political science major at Cal State Fullerton. "And I would think it would be grainy and not as clear of a picture. My choice would be to watch something first on TV, or TiVo it."

Steven Jagodzinski, a 21-year-old computer science student in Baltimore, is a fan of cartoons such as "South Park," which would seem a natural fit for mobile viewing. But he said the idea seemed "pointless."

"Why would I want to look at a video clip on my cellphone?" he said. "I'd rather make phone calls on it."

Young people aren't alone in their slow embrace of the small screen. Recent studies by several independent research firms indicate that only about 1% to 3% of mobile phone subscribers currently watch videos on their phones.

But media executives are confident that the appetite will increase once the technology improves and the price for hand-held devices drops. They note that while young people may be reluctant to watch full-length feature films or even 22-minute television shows on small screens, they may be more interested in viewing short clips, a kind of "snack TV."

That's why the major entertainment companies are developing a slew of original content for the third screen.

"If you look across the media companies, digital generally represents about 5% of their revenue and 50% of the questions on their quarterly earnings calls," said George Kliavkoff, who last week was appointed NBC Universal's first chief digital officer. "The reason is the future of connecting with customers is going to be figuring out the ways to give them what they want, on the devices they want, when they want it."

Interestingly, 12- to 14-year-old girls showed the greatest eagerness about small-screen viewing, with 20% of those surveyed open to watching television shows on cellphones and nearly a quarter interested in checking out programs on iPods.

"I think it's really cool and I would love to have it," said 14-year-old Katie Stears of Jamestown, Ky., who has pleaded with her parents for a video iPod. "You don't have to always be at home to watch TV."

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