Login is restricted to DCN Publisher Members. If you are a DCN Member and don't have an account, register here.

Digital Content Next


Research / Insights on current and emerging industry topics

Digital media behaviors between older and younger generations converge

February 21, 2022 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy

Some differences between generations seem irrefutable while others seem little more than the function of age and maturity. Without doubt, we have observed the many impacts of digital transformation on Millennials and Gen Z. Yet, while the rise of digital ubiquity is certainly one of the most profound impacts on culture (and certainly media usage), we also saw the pandemic accelerate and impact a slew of trends. In an interesting twist, it appears that it may have sped up some digital media consumption convergence between older and younger generations.

The IPA’s Commercial Media Landscape report offers a high level view of the media landscape today. The report looks at reach, share of time, time spent, and usage patterns across the day of all commercial media properties in order to illuminate where shifts are occurring. In particular, it delves into how adults in Great Britain spend their media day and examines the differences between age groups.


One of the most striking findings of the fourth edition of the report is the changing nature of the relationship between the media consumption habits of 16- 34s and people aged 55+. Previous editions of the IPA’s report found steady declines in the correlation between the habits of these two audiences with a trend towards divergence. In a striking turn, the fourth edition finds a marked shift towards eventual convergence.

This seems to be driven by the fact that the 16-34 age group is nearing peak digital penetration as their patterns of consumption level out. At the same time, for those aged 55 and over, the advancement of technology usage brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in rapid digital media uptake.


Online Video has seen the most significant growth of any media channel over the last five years, and it now commands a greater share of media time than Live/Recorded TV for 16-34s. As with 16-34s, the reduction in time spent with Commercial Live/Recorded TV for 35-54 was one of the largest shifts from 2015 to 2021. In 2015 Commercial Live/Recorded TV took a 42% share of the curated commercial media day for 35-54s. By 2020 pre-lockdown this had fallen to 29%, and again to 26% in 2021 post-lockdown.  

For those 55+ Commercial Live/ Recorded TV and Newsbrands (Print) saw increases in reach, share and time spent during and post lockdown. On the other hand, Social Media was the clear winner for 16-34s.

For commercial media in 2021, more time is now being spent with digital rather than nondigital channels. For all adults, the split has grown from 58:42 towards non-digital in 2015 to 46:54 in favor of digital in 2021. For 16-34s in 2021, 78% of all curated commercial media time was spent with digital channels.

As is to be expected, share shifted the most among 16-34s, from 76% commercial in 2015 to 64% in 2021 post lockdown. And although 16-34s are seen as the subscription spear-headers, they actually spent almost two thirds of their media time in commercial spaces, which is greater than the average adult.

Overall, the report finds significant evidence of increasing digital media usage for 55+. In the 2021 post-lockdown era, Smartphone, Tablet and PC Laptop combined now account for 33% of their total commercial media consumption time for this group, up from 19%. As the report points out, those over 55 had to quickly adapt to stay in touch, shop etc., which made them more confident about digital media and devices.


The areas of difference are still significantly greater than commonalities. Unsurprisingly, the report does reinforce some of the expected generational differences in media consumption.

According to the authors, “although it is encouraging to see an increase in similarity between these two audiences, it should not be missed that a correlation of 18% still represents an 82% dissimilarity between the two audience’s time spent with media properties and a hope of one-size-fits-all media plans in reality would be more aligned to one-size-fits-none.”

However, it does find a greater degree of convergence than might  be expected. While this was likely accelerated by the pandemic, the report ultimately suggests that, for 16-34s, their level of digital media usage has become so high, there is very little room for additional growth. However, for 55+ there was — and will be — continued room for growth in digital media usage. So, while it is critical to innovate and experiment to attract younger audiences, it is important not to overlook the growth opportunities across generations.

Print Friendly and PDF