The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Teen intern at Morgan Stanley creates new-media firestorm

July 16, 2009 |  9:28 am

Every year I run a story where a bunch of know-it-all teenagers watch a dozen or so trailers and then bluntly grade and critique the upcoming summer movies. It's not by any stretch of the imagination a scientific survey, yet the reaction from studio marketing chiefs is always worthy of a Defcon nuclear alert. Last year, one executive actually called ahead to ask when the story was running, saying, "Please tip me off -- I want to be out of town when it appears." No one really cares when a pesky blogger like me  bashes a movie, but all sorts of tumult ensue when a bunch of teens trash the studio's big summer extravaganza. 

Financial-times The reason is pretty obvious: In pop culture, the youth of today rule the roost -- their opinions always sought, their attitudes carefully analyzed and their slightest whims instantly addressed, as if they were royalty, prepared to ascend to the throne. So is it really any surprise that the media in Britain have been in a tizzy the last two days over a front-page piece in the Financial Times in which Matthew Robson, a 15-year-old intern at Morgan Stanley, offered, in great, apparently controversial detail, his teen peers' attitude toward social media consumption.

I was hardly shocked by anything Robson said, having heard teenagers in my neighborhood voice similar opinions all the time. But seeing it in the venerable Financial Times seems to have given it a greater heft, especially with media chieftains already brooding over the deterioration of their various business models.  

The Times of London has already run a feature on Robson, filled with priceless teen lifestyle detail: Robson "told the Times that at home he usually communicates with his male friends while blowing up terrorists on the action video game 'Call of Duty,' 'You use a mobile phone if you want to talk to girls,' he said, as 'only about one in fifty girls plays computer games.' "

Meanwhile, the anti-Robson backlash has already begun, with the Guardian fretting, "Why is one 15-year-old's middling analysis of teen media use being interpreted as the new bible of social media?" 

So what does Robson have to say that's prompting media conglomerate CEOs to reach for a bottle of Pepto-Bismol? For a few highlights, just keep reading:

On social networks: "Facebook is popular as one can interact with friends on a wide scale. On the other hand, teenagers do not use Twitter. Most have signed up to the service, but then just leave it as they realize that they are not going to update it (mostly because texting Twitter uses up credit, and they would rather text friends with that credit). In addition they realize that no one is viewing their profile, so their 'tweets' are pointless."

On newspapers: "No teenager that I know of regularly reads a newspaper, as most do not have the time and cannot be bothered to read pages and pages of text while they could watch the news summarized on the Internet or on TV. The only newspapers that are read are tabloids and freesheets mainly because of cost; teenagers are very reluctant to pay for a newspaper."

On movies: "Teenagers visit the cinema quite often, regardless of what is on. Usually they will target a film first, and set out to see that, but sometimes they will just go and choose when they get there. This is because going to the cinema is not usually about the film, but the experience -- and getting together with friends. Teenagers visit the cinema more often when they are in the lower end of teendom (13 and 14) but as they approach 15 they go to the cinema a lot less. . . . At 15, they have to pay the adult price, which is often double the child price. Also, it is possible to buy a pirated DVD of the film at the time of release, and these cost much less than a cinema ticket."

On cellphones: " As most teenagers' phones have Bluetooth support and Bluetooth is free, they utilize this feature often. It is used to send songs and videos (even though it is illegal) and is another way teenagers gain songs for free. Teenagers never use the ring tone and picture selling services, which gained popularity in the early '00s. This is because of the negative press that these services have attracted and the fact that they can get pictures and music on a computer -- and then transfer it to their phones at no cost."

On online advertising: "Most teenagers enjoy and support viral marketing, as often it creates humorous and interesting content. Teenagers see adverts on websites (pop ups, banner ads) as extremely annoying and pointless, as they have never paid any attention to them and they are portrayed in such a negative light that no one follows them."

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