Sunday, November 15, 2015

How Do We Break Into the Tweens and Teens Busy Schedule So We Have a Future?

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on……………"

What an odd, dichotomous world we live in.  Sanity last week in Myanmar; insanity in Paris.

Getting on the Screens:

If we are to have a rosy future for the arts, it's clear we absolutely must figure out a way to insure that today's tweens and teens are part of our mix.  We will need them as audiences, supporters, administrators, and artists.  We have to figure out a way to recruit them, involve them, entice them and hook them on the arts, and do that as early in their lives as possible.  If we don't do that, then our performance seats will be empty, donations will be scarce, and who knows whether or not we will continue to attract the best and brightest to our field, or whether or not the pool of artists grows or declines.  It may be trite to state the obvious, but if we don't develop them as our future, then there won't be much of a future for what we are pushing.

Competition for their time and loyalty is keen and formidable.  And they are at an age where their tastes are peer influenced, subject to wide swings and often transitory and temporary.   Getting to them is arguably harder than it has ever been.

The theory has long been that kids who are exposed to, and involved in, the arts in school, will more likely be future audience members and donor / supporters.   That proposition has some evidence to support it, but is by no means an established fact.  Kids who have the arts as part of their education, certainly do better on a host of markers.  But that doesn't necessarily mean they will, as adults, be more involved, though we think they will.  But despite our continued best efforts to insure that all kids K-12 get standards based, sequential arts in school, unfortunately, some do, and many still do not.

So if we haven't yet figured out how to succeed in offering the arts to every kid in school, how else are we going to break into their busy days and get them to see and understand both the enjoyment and the value of the arts to their lives.

Consider the following recent news items about how tweens and teens spend their time:

According to a report by Common Sense Media (based on a national sample of more than 2,600 young people ages 8 to 18) - widely quoted in the press last week:

"On any given day, teens in the United States spend about nine hours using media for their enjoyment, and the nine hours does not include time spent using media at school or for their homework.
Tweens, identified as children 8 to 12, spend about six hours, on average, consuming media, the report found."

And these kids are predominantly on mobile platforms:

"Consider these stats: 53% of tweens -- kids 8 to 12 -- have their own tablet and 67% of teens have their own smartphones. Mobile devices account for 41% of all screen time for tweens and 46% for teens."

Not surprisingly, there is variation in how differing groups are in front of screens, most notably in gender:

"There are definite gender differences when it comes to media habits of teens and tweens.
Some 62% of teen boys say they enjoy playing video games "a lot" versus 20% of girls. When it comes to using social media, 44% of teen girls say they enjoy it "a lot" versus 29% for boys. Girls, on average, spend about 40 minutes more on social networks than boys, with girls spending about an hour and a half a day on social media and boys a little under an hour."

Indeed, should you think how tweens and teens (boys or girls) spend their time in front of a screen isn't that big a deal, consider this news item in Forbes this past week:

"The Activision video game: Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 was the “biggest entertainment launch of the year. a $550M opening weekend for the Friday, Saturday, Sunday release of the game compared to Jurassic World’s US debut of $208.8M on(its') opening weekend"
 100 million people have played Call of Duty.

Nine hours a day, broken down as reported in the WSJ:

"While there are countless ways teens and tweens can interact with media, the overwhelming majority of young people surveyed listed watching TV and listening to music as activities that they enjoy “a lot” and engage in “every day.
According to Common Sense’s report, teens and tweens spend roughly two-and-a-half hours a day watching TV, DVDs or videos, more than any other media activity. This category includes watching a TV program at the time it is broadcast, time-shifted viewing of a show, watching programs on a streaming video service, watching clips on platforms such as YouTube and watching shows or movies on a DVD."

And what are they watching on their screens?  According to an article in the Washington Post:

 "Youth between the ages of 12 and 17 watch fewer hours of traditional television than any other age group; and the figure has declined 7 percent in the last five years, from 104 to 96 hours per month, according to a Nielsen report from the first quarter of this year.
Forget 15 minutes of fame on the Internet–six seconds will do.
That’s the maximum length of a video on Vine, the social media app that lets users capture and share looping short films–and is spawning an entire crop of celebrity names unlikely to ring a bell with anyone over 18."

Beyond watching television, DVDs and video's:

"On average, teens spend nearly two hours a day listening to music while tweens spend just under an hour a day doing so. Teens and tweens each spend about an hour and 20 minutes playing video, computer or mobile games. Teens use social media for one hour and 11 minutes on average a day, compared to just 16 minutes for tweens."

Unfortunately, for the idea that access to being online presents incredible opportunities for creating, rather than passively consuming, content, the report nixes that notion with respect to tweens and teens:

"Common Sense’s research found that young people overwhelmingly tend to consume other people’s media content rather than create their own. Teens and tweens spend 39% and 41% of their digital media time, respectively, “passively” consuming content such as online videos, TV shows or listening to music. 
In comparison, only 3% of teens and tweens’ digital media time is spent on creating content such as making art or music or writing."

We need more than that 3%.

There are still just 24 hours in a day, so if the tweens and teens are in front of a screen for 9 of those hours, and in school for say 6 of those hours, and sleep for seven of those hours (and they need at least that much sleep), and eat, exercise (maybe) or whatever else for the remaining two hours, then IF we want to get to them (and we can't get to all of them in the schools, and not likely in their sleep), then we have to figure out how to get onto those screens they are in front of every day - television, you tube, instagram, video games, vine, movies, social networks etc. etc. etc. because there is no other choice.

So how do we do that?  How do we get more television shows they relate to that feature the arts in a positive way (like Glee or So You Think You Can Dance).  How do we embed the arts in video games?  How do we make a percentage of the you tube videos they watch center on the arts?  How do we embed the arts more on Instagram?  And on Vine.  And on social networks?

How do we allow the average tween / teen to personalize the celebratization of the arts so that we can compete with a Kardashian and Transformer world?  How do we make involvement in the arts a form of a new selfie that transcends the shallowness of the simplicity of the current form of a selfie - one with a bigger payoff on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest?  How do we present the arts so they capture both the novelty and then the utilitarianism of AirBnb, Uber or other innovative changes in the way people move - but scale it for a tween / teen cohort?  How do we begin to ask questions that directly relate to the changes in growing up, and that will have arts as part of real answers?  And if we can do that, how do we include the thread that the arts are fun, cool, valuable and warrant the tween / teens interest, time, loyalty and involvement, and make sure the kids get that the arts are for them?

Whew!!  I don't know either.   But we have got to get more on the edge. We can't be so complacent in relying on the past approaches to reaching out.   Consider this:

 "If you often take Lyft cars, you might just end up in your next one alongside Justin Bieber.
The pop star is releasing his new album "Purpose" in a rather novel way. Shirking the traditional release strategy, Bieber is literally taking to the streets with a promotion facilitated by the SF ride-share app. 
Between November 12-19, Lyft users who select the "Bieber Mode" function within the app and take a ride for $5 will be rewarded with a download code and a $5 credit for their next ride." 

Now Justin Bieber has like 25 million twitter followers, is the king of You Tube and social media, and is all over the media.  One would think all he would have to do on the release of a new album is announce the fact to his fan base.  End of story.  But in a lesson for us I think, and perhaps why he continues to have success, is that his team is unwilling to rely on what worked in the past, and continually tries to break new ground.  They intuitively know that things are never static and always changing and that is simply the fact of life in any interaction with the younger cohort.  That is exactly what we have to do. Get out there on the edge more.

I know that what tweens and teens will do in the future seems like a long way off if you are running an arts organization and have your plate full with all kinds of things that you need to do this week, or next, or next month, but as a sector we had better very soon start to try to figure it out - IF we want to have a future.  While art will likely always exist, and while artists will likely always be part of the matrix, and while a percentage of the public will likely always want and support the arts, there is no guarantee whatsoever today that the numbers of current tweens and teens in our camp will grow to be large enough to continue the existence of the nonprofit arts world as we know it.  We need to start thinking in terms of access to, and a presence on, these screens - more than thinking just in terms of social network platforms or the like, because these screens are where they live.  We can use buzzwords like engagement if we want, but the bottom line is these different screens are virtually the only pipeline there is to reach this group.   It is being on these screens that counts, and is essential to be one them if we are to scale up our presence with a generation.  And we're not on those screens enough.  I know too that this is a sector wide challenge and will require national organizations, national funders and thinkers to address it on behalf of all the single organizations.  

Forget the theories and lexicon and convoluted approaches.  I just don't see a viable alternative to getting to these kids other than us getting on those screens these kids are front of nine hours a day.  That's where we have to start.  And soon.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit