2020 Trends and Topics Related to Teens, Aged 12-17

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Insights; Entertainment Content Industry

Teens today are known as digital natives, and have never known a world without the internet and instant connectivity. Almost half claim to be online constantly, while teens across the board are online at some point at least every day. The vast majority of 12-17-year-olds favor YouTube as their entertainment platform, and consume a wide variety of content, from educational videos, to hydraulic press, to make-up, to cat videos. Most use their telephones to access content, while almost as many also use their computers, often simultaneously.

Teens' Entertainment Expectations

  • Teens expect not to be bored by the social media they consume, thus the wide array of content on YouTube keeps most of them happy.
  • They expect their likes to be catered to. As one teen stated: "As long as the algorithm caters to what I like, I'll be on YouTube."
  • Deborah Nichols, an associate professor of human development and family studies at Purdue University, said the huge increase in YouTube as teens' preferred platform shows the "shift away from globalized interest to much more specialized or individualized interest."
  • Teenagers also like to see something that is fun and "satisfying," thus the popularity in hydraulic press and shred videos.

Preferred Content

  • According to a study performed by marketing agency Fona, today's teenagers are adventurous, open-minded, have strong opinions, have learned from their parents' healthy eating habits, and are interested in creating new tastes in the kitchen. The Fona study found that 46% of teenagers regularly watch cooking shows as a form of entertainment and education.
  • Interactive media is popular, including movies, gaming, and sports. In fact, 34% of U.S. teens are in a fantasy football league.
  • There are some differences in how girls and boys enjoy media consumption, most notably in gaming. Seventy percent of boys surveyed said they enjoy playing video games "a lot," while only 23% of girls did.
  • Girls, however, spend more time on social media per day than boys, and their favorite activity is listening to music.
  • Although there is ample choice to create original online content, very few teens (3%) spend time creating their own content.
  • Many teens' entertainment philosophy is that "TV is primarily made by old people for old people," and is therefore not relevant to their lives.
  • As stated by one Texas teenager, "...YouTubers are the equivalent of mainstream celebrities."
  • Teenagers want to know they are not alone in their angst, insecurities, and general trying-to-make-it-through-life, thus vloggers posting on YouTube about their own anxieties is comforting to other teenagers, and wildly popular.

Most Popular Entertainment Platforms

  • Forty-five percent of teens say their internet usage is now almost constant, which is double the number (24%) of teens who reported constant internet use in the 2014-2015 Pew Research study.
  • Teens in rural Texas were found to be like teens everywhere: they prefer YouTube over other forms of digital entertainment.

Research strategy

The preliminary research on this project was used as a jumping-off point to determine what teenagers want in their entertainment. Further reliable sources were found to provide and collaborate background information (New York Times, McKinsey, Wall Street Journal), although not every source was specifically cited. In regard to researching the differences between rural, suburban and urban teens' consumption of entertainment, only one source was found (Wall Street Journal) that made any sort of mention of this, essentially stating that rural teens consume the same type of content, and in the same way, as urban teens. We suggest that this particular portion of the request might need to be researched separately, as sources were not readily found.
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Business Opportunities; US Entertainment Content Industry


Content developers looking to reach consumers between age 12-17 can capitalize on the high level of online use, which has shifted the topics of interest as well as the way this audience engages with topics. Themes and types of content that were likely to captivate this audience varied from older demographics as well as teens in years past. Specifically, 12-17-year-olds were likely to hone in on content that touched on relevant social issues, that featured humor or self-deprecation, and were also more likely than older consumers to have conversations about brands and shopping with peers.

Social Issues

  • Teens in the US are increasingly likely to talk about social issues, specifically around the environment and education.
  • In fact, one source notes this demographic may be paying more attention to leading social issues than the adult population.
  • Politics are of interest to teens, with 30% talking about the president and 23% talking about national events each day.
  • 17% of teens in the US discuss women's issues and feminism each day.
  • The environment is a topic of conversation for 16% of teens in the US, and immigration a topic for 15%.
  • Because teens have constant access to news via mobile devices, they are both more informed, and more concerned about the state of the world, and more likely to engage in activism and conversations to improve it.
  • Therefore, content developers that engage with relevant social topics are likely to draw the interest of consumers between ages 12-17.

Topical Humor

  • While teens are interested in social issues, they prefer content that frames their interests and concerns with humor.
  • The phrase "OK boomer" is one illustration of how topical content uses humor as a tool. The phrase, which refers to the idea of adults preaching idealistically to teens is used often on social media to add levity to this generation's frustrations at the world.
  • Meme-centric content that both features a relevant issue but frames is with humor is an especially popular form of content for 12-17-year-olds in the US.
  • Content that doesn't take itself too seriously, and features an element of self deprecation is also popular, as this generation craves authenticity over curated content.
  • Content that is organic vs. templated, and features a bit of 'sass' is an effective way of showing enough personality to engage this audience.
  • Teens feel there are many heavy issues facing their generation, and feel that humor helps them from getting too depressed when considering current events in society.

Brands & Companies

  • Teens were highly likely to talk about popular brands on a daily basis.
  • Apple brands dominated the conversation, with 31% of teens referring to Apple brands daily, and 18% referring to their iPhone each day.
  • 14.6% of teens referred to Coca-Cola brand within the average day, 12.1% referred to the Samsung brand in a day, and 11.2% referred to Nike.
  • Teens were most likely to have conversations around their favorite tech brands and devices.
  • Teens also talked about the companies that own their favorite tech platforms more than in the past, with a 127% rise in teens who are having conversations about Amazon, and 115% rise in conversations about the Facebook platform.
  • Fewer teens are having conversations about gaming related brands and devices such as Nintendo and Playstation than in the past, favoring conversations about the brand of their mobile devices.

Research Strategy

In order to determine the greatest business opportunities for content developers in the entertainment content industry in the US to reach 12-17-year-old consumers, we analyzed marketing journals, advertising news, popular media sources, as well as industry reports. We honed in on what key categories and types of content were the focus of the most engagement within this audience, and analyzed the details of each opportunity to offer additional insights on how content developers might relate to this audience.

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Consumer Trends; Entertainment Content Industry

Several of the biggest consumer trends/topics related to 12-17 year olds in 2020 are this cohort's high but shifting social media use, high gaming rates and shift to digital video consumption.

High but Shifting Social Media Use

  • The increasingly high but shifting social media use by 12-17 year olds was selected as one of the biggest consumer trends/topics among this cohort for 2020 given the fact that multiple credible researchers (Pew Research Center) and publications (eMarketer) are currently discussing this trend.
  • A recent report by eMarketer found that approximately 70% of 12-17 year olds use social media, as well as that the preferred social media outlets for this cohort are rapidly changing.
  • Currently, the most used social media platform by 12-17 year olds is Snapchat (51%), followed by Instagram (27%), Facebook (19%) and Twitter (3%).
  • This represents a significant shift since 2016, when Facebook was the most popular social network among 12-17 year olds.
  • Moving forward, Snapchat is expected to continue adding new users from this cohort (1.2 million by 2022), while Facebook is forecast to continue losing 12-17 year olds (2.2 million by 2022).
  • Additionally, Instagram is also forecast to continue its "mass-scale" presence within 12-17 year olds.
  • However, parallel research by the Pew Research Center suggests that 13-17 year olds will continue to prefer using multiple social media outlets, rather than "just one."
  • Meanwhile, teen favorite Nike is an example of a brand that is leaning into this trend with its direct-to-consumer sales on Snapchat.
  • For example, Nike's special pre-release of its Air Jordan III sold out in 23 minutes using a special Snap code ordering system.

High Gaming Rates

  • The almost ubiquitous presence of gaming entertainment across 12-17 year olds was identified as another major trend/topic among this cohort for 2020 given that multiple credible industry researchers are currently highlighting this trend.
  • According to the Pew Research Center, almost all (97%) of 12-17 year olds engage in "computer, web, portal or console" gaming.
  • Similarly, a recent survey by eMarketer revealed that most boys (approximately 90%) and girls (approximately 75%) either own or have access to a gaming console.
  • This entertainment content is not only highly prevalent among 12-17 year olds, but is a regular part of their daily lives, with 50% of this cohort reporting that they played games "yesterday."
  • Meanwhile, Epic Games is among those companies which have capitalized on this trend, with its game Fortnite considered to be the most "recent obsession" for gaming content consumption by 12-17 year olds.
  • Notably, Fortnite earned $1.5 million in revenue in just its first three days, and is considered the "biggest video game in the world."

Shift to Digital Video Consumption

  • Finally, the shift of 12-17 year olds from traditional to digital video entertainment was chosen as another key consumer trend/topic among this cohort given the fact that numerous experts and articles have highlighted this shift in video content consumption.
  • Specifically, the rise in digital video viewership among 12-17 year olds has been accompanied by a drop-off in more traditional TV viewership.
  • As of 2018, the engagement of 12-17 year olds in digital video (23.3 million) and traditional TV (22.5 million) was fairly similar, however experts forecast that growth in digital video consumption among this cohort will "remain steady" in coming years, while TV viewership will "continue to decrease year over year."
  • Additional research even suggests that digital video already has a 93.4% penetration rate amongst 12-17 year olds.
  • Meanwhile, the preferred digital video entertainment options among 12-17 year olds are Netflix and YouTube.
  • In particular, 80% of 12-17 year olds report using YouTube, while approximately 66% report using YouTube on a daily basis.
  • More generally, the report Digital Life of US Teens found that this cohort prefers YouTube for short-form and user-generated content as well as more professionally created shows and music videos targeted at teens.
  • Meanwhile, teen favorite Chipotle has seen tremendous success in leveraging this shift towards digital video and YouTube specifically.
  • Notably, several of its YouTube videos have gone viral, including Back to the Start (8 million views) and Scarecrow (11 million views).

Research Strategy

Please note, limited public information was available which discussed the biggest consumer trends and topics related to 12-17 year olds in 2020. This is likely due to the highly specific nature of the request, particularly related to the parameters around age groups. However, multiple credible research reports and publications were identified which discussed key trends/topics for 12-17 year olds related to entertainment content consumption. Given the fact that these resources were published within the past two years and discussed these topics with forward-looking projections, it was deemed reasonable that these trends/topics would also be relevant in 2020. As such, we summarized these insights within the above research.