In today’s all-consuming world of digitalisation, teenage trends move rapidly and unpredictably. As early adopters, teens can be the difference between success and failure for telecom goods and services. One example of teens as influencers is the surge of online gaming video platforms such as Twitch, which have become epicentres of teen-driven web traffic. Teens are also moving away from traditional social media and becoming more active on mobile-based, image-focused platforms such as Instagram, which are more suitable to teen lifestyles. However, teens are not always major influencers in consumer-facing technologies, with this demographic having been largely ignored by the wearable tech segment.
Global Wearable Electronics Retail Volume and Mobile Internet Penetration: 2010-2015
Source: Euromonitor International from trade sources/national statistics/International Telecommunications Union (ITU)
Note: Figures for 2015 are forecast
1. Teens spend as much time watching others play online as playing themselves
The rise of e-games championships, open-source gaming and various live-streaming tools have created a huge teenage audience for watching others play video games online. The penetration and reach of web-enabled smartphones and tablets (a third of mobile subscriptions were web-enabled in 2014 worldwide) have enabled video viewing from anywhere, from the schoolyard to the bus. Exemplary of this has been the surging rise of video platform Twitch, which has become the frontline in online game viewing and whose purchase by Amazon for US$1.0 billion is now considered by most to be a bargain. The fact that YouTube launched its own rival gaming-focused video platform in August 2015 (YouTube Gaming) only demonstrates the lucrative potential of this segment, which attracts huge web traffic flows and is therefore a goldmine for advertising revenues.
This market is especially driven by teens due to several factors: teenagers have more free time for extended video-viewing than young professionals and twenty-somethings (the other major game-playing demographic), they have more opportunity to participate in social game-viewing environments (such as schools and colleges), and their lack of ready income means free video content is more attractive. This market will reach huge proportions when more teens from emerging markets catch the trend. Global household possession of a video game console reached almost 10.0% in 2014.
2. Teens driving use of image-based social media
Teens have traditionally been the pioneers in social media usage and their preferences dictate the next big social networking trends. The primary reason for this is simply because they spend more time ‘liking’, commenting and consuming social media content than any other age group. And the latest trend emanating from teen Internet users is that social media is all about images and videos, in particular the Facebook-owned Instagram. In its mid-2015 survey, financial services firm Piper Jaffray found that nearly one-third of surveyed teens in the USA chose Instagram above all other social media platforms, making it most popular among this demographic.
Instagram’s popularity among this age group is driven by two basic factors: mobile- and image-friendliness. The social network was mobile-based from the get-go and therefore had a considerable advantage over the likes of Facebook and Twitter, which had to go through a complex transition period. Its rise has also been intertwined with the major technological leaps in smartphone cameras and ‘selfie’ trends. Teenagers, more so than any other age group, place huge importance on self-image, meaning that a social media platform enabling to project it to the world most efficiently is likely to be in demand. The consequence of this online-photo-ready teen world is especially potent for marketers, who will find more success targeting teenagers on image-based platforms like Instagram than more traditional alternatives such as Twitter and Facebook. In 2014, global online adspend reached over US$100 billion, on the verge of becoming the second largest advertising medium.
3. Teens not on the wearables bandwagon
The wearable tech market finally hit the mainstream in 2015, as developers began to cater to the tastes of consumers and Apple launched its signature smartwatch. However, the segment is yet to convince teens to part with their limited incomes (or that of their parents). The most innovative and groundbreaking wearables designs, such as fitness bands and heart-rate monitors, have largely focused on older age groups. Meanwhile, wearables have not yet demonstrated any more functionality than a smartphone for gaming or social media, segments popular with teens, or have produced a fashionable, must-have teenage item like the iPod in the 2000s. Wearables are ultimately considered as an additional luxury by the low-income teenage segment (the 15-19 year-old group is the lowest earning of all age groups globally, with an annual income of US$4,647 in 2014).
However, the segment has clearly not reached its full potential (with only around 85.0 million wearable electronics units expected to be shifted globally in 2015), and is trying to get a foothold where it can. Once technology is able to deliver greater results from small devices, there is obvious opportunity for tie-ins with gaming consoles, online video and other teen-driven content.