At Esomar Congress last month, Viacom’s Christian Kurz presented the results of The Next Normal, the company’s study of the millennial generation.
Across 24 countries and 15,000 interviews, the media group – owners of television brands including MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central – sought to get a handle on this most “complex” of generations; and to pin down what it is exactly that makes it so complex.
Research spoke to Kurz down the line in New York, weeks before his appearance in Istanbul, to hear what the results revealed, and how Viacom was adapting to the insights the research had uncovered.
How do you perceive the millennial generation, and how are they different from previous generations?
Christian Kurz: Basically, what we wanted to do with The Next Normal was look at millennials across a broad range of countries – 24 countries originally, but we’re adding a few more to it now.
“Because millennials are moving between platforms, that gives us the opportunity to be on many more platforms. We are no longer just a TV channel”
We’ve been looking at youth under the MTV banner and families under the Nickelodeon banner for a number of years, so it was interesting for us to see what has changed and what is changing.
Take the generation gap, for example. It just isn’t there anymore. Kids and parents are talking to each other in a much more open way now. If you think back 20, 30 or 50 years, they didn’t have a language to talk to each other about various things: think Beatlemania and Woodstock. Now, everybody is wearing the same clothes and listening to the same music so there is a homogenisation, if you will, in the generations.
One of the key elements we’re seeing now in the millennial generation is the importance of family. The definition of ‘a family’ is changing and continues to. But what family means – as a concept – is staying the same. So, clearly we have more single-parent households now. Stepparents and grandparents are taking a greater role in childcare. We have same-sex couples raising kids, foster kids, adoption – they are all more prominent than they used to be. But when a millennial refers to ‘family’, it’s very clear what emotions and feelings they are talking about – regardless of who these people are that they call ‘family’.
What does that mean for you, as a content company?
CK: These findings are incredibly helpful in terms of deciding not only what types of programmes and content we are producing, but what the storylines should be.
On MTV for example, we created a show called Underemployed. [The Next Normal found that unemployment is the top global issue that young people want to see solved, with 49% believing that job security will get worse].
We also have a show called Catfish, which is inspired by the way that millennials are dating and meeting people online – social media, as we know is incredibly important, and we’ve recently done a small piece of work with our friends at [the market research agency] Tpoll looking at how social dating works.
Then, with Nickelodeon, we needed to show families as they are today – rather than just have them be two parents, two-and-a-half children and a dog. We need to show real-life situations, and that really is impacting on how we put content together.
In terms of reaching millennials, and being able to draw their attention, what are the challenges? We’re often told how impatient and distracted a generation they are.
CK: We see opportunities, not problems. Because millennials are moving between platforms, that gives us the opportunity to be on many more platforms. We are no longer a TV channel. We are a TV channel plus a whole load of other things.
Look at Geordie Shore. Season six in the UK had incredible ratings numbers – but that’s not all. We had a whole load of Twitter traffic at the same time, we have extensions online… it’s really giving us that opportunity to make our content more effective and broader.
And frankly, given that a large part of our workforce is of the millennial generation anyway, it’s part of our company DNA. But we’re also doing a lot of reverse-mentoring. We’re getting people in and having our senior executives talk to millennials to understand what their perspectives are on things.
Do you find you’re also having to change the way you engage from a research perspective?
CK: Research is a changing beast, regardless. What we’re seeing now is the next evolution. We’re actively looking at all the new technologies, and how we can use them.
But we’ve found that millennials are so willing to be your consultant – they are over-sharing everything anyway, so all we need to do is tap into that. And one of the ways we are looking to do that is by building research communities, which is what our original engagement with Tpoll was: we built this thing called Your View, which is a cross-brand panel to get consumer opinion in a directed way.
On top of that, social media listening is incredibly important – although I’m not entirely sure we, or anybody else, is using it in the most effective way we can just yet.
Millennials are happy and willing to tell you things, you just need to give them an opportunity to do so.
Christian Kurz is vice-president, research and insights, at Viacom International