IE Focus | By Enrique Dans, Professor at IE Business School

Television is dead. And not only television, but all the other classic media based on unidirectional communication, because the young are changing the rules. A recent study on teenagers´ habits carried out in the United States reveals of how the way information is consumed in our society has changed over the years: the classic one-way media, such as television, have died a death. The medium that was considered for many years as a bastion of North American culture and which still brings together multimillion audiences for events such as the Super Bowl final is being abandoned by young people in their droves. Time spent in front of the TV has fallen drastically and those who still watch it do so on a different screen: their computer.

The final nail in TV’s coffin has been hammered home, as expected, by the social network. The use of the social network confirms that the absurd fears of some adults for the alleged “isolation” of young people in front of the screen (“they don´t go out any more”, “I prefer my computer to seeing my friends”, “they are so pale because they get no sunshine and only get radiation from the screen”) were unfounded fears: the young people who are the most active on the net are also the most active off the net… they have more friends, go out more and go to more parties. Almost all teenagers (97%) spend more than two hours a day on their social network. They update their status at least once a day and send more than three thousand text messages a month (in the United States, most telephone contracts automatically include a very high number of text messages). And they are exceptionally good at multitasking: when they sit in front of the TV, they do so with their laptop on their laps or their mobiles in their hands. 

We should think about what this means for the immediate future of our society: young people are moving away from one-way media and prefer a means of communication that is almost liquid and constant, which is leading us to a completely different social model. For most of the history of humanity, human beings have received information via one-way media that could not accept a return channel for technical reasons. This limitation has conditioned many of the things we know: businesses bombarded us with advertisements that did not expect a reply beyond a binary variable: one or zero, either they purchase my product or they don´t. Politicians bombarded us with messages or held meetings with speeches that were systematically given in one direction, with no questions or participation and ended by conditioning structures based on more of the same, on a one-way approach and on zero participation: the winner was the “discreet” one, the one who didn´t shout, the one who was simply there long enough, like when you watch a programme from your sofa. 

Young people´s habits today clearly condition the society of the future. And as far as the society of the future is concerned, if there is something I am not very sure about, it is the capacity of many of those who currently take decisions in many areas to adapt to it. To a certain extent, the Coca-Cola advertisement that shows a teenager saying that he is the company´s new vice-president and that “things are going to change a lot” makes me smile: only a few, very few companies really understand the change that is about to happen and only a few have the skill and flexibility to ask who they have to ask: young people who have very different preferences in terms of communication and the information they want in comparison with those of today´s executives when they were young. 

We are living in the screen-change era. From TV to the desktop computer, to the laptop, to the tablet PC, to the mobile… there are many of them, and all very varied and interactive. Insisting on “being part of them just to be there” will not take us anywhere. We do not need to consider where or “on what channels”, but rather in what way we are there, what we propose, how we join that mad multi-person conversation that represents total bi-directionality. Let’s face it: the technologically limited screen with its controlled messages, its interruptions and no response channel is never coming back.