Read time 2mInsights

What the Narrowing Digital Gap Means for Media

Earlier this month, the IPA released the 4th edition of its IPA TouchPoints report, Making Sense – The Commercial Media Landscape. Findings uphold the trend towards digital channels, which collectively now occupy a greater proportion of the nation’s time than non-digital media.

While that is unlikely to cause a major surprise to marketers, evidence below the surface reveals a more complex picture – and with considerable nuances which planners must consider.

Firstly, the digital age gap is shrinking. While much of digital’s growth in recent years has been driven by the 18-34 market, there are signs that usage of digital channels among younger age groups may have peaked. Compared to data from the 2021 lockdown, weekly reach among this demographic for social media, online video, and radio on-demand/podcasts remained flat or decreased slightly; the latter two of which had previously grown at a rapid rate since 2015.

While conventional wisdom might attribute this merely to people having less time on their hands post-lockdown, this is not uniformly observed. Among 35-54s, the weekly reach of each of those channels increased by 6-8%, indicating that such growth shows no sign of slowing.

All of which indicates that our relationship with media is becoming more homogeneous. In 2015, the correlation in time spent with commercial media between 16-34s and 35-54s was 58%; by the 2021 lockdown, this had fallen to just 8%. Yet, as over-35s continue to adopt non-traditional channels into their routines, this correlation has grown to 18%. In terms of weekly reach, the increase is even more stark: from 23% correlation during the 2021 lockdown to 52% correlation today.

This dramatic reversal is further highlighted by the fact that, at the very broadest level, patterns of media consumption across audio, video, text and OOH have returned to pre-lockdown form. The lockdowns of 2020-21 were the biggest shake-up to media patterns in decades, thanks largely to our greater time spent at home, minimising OOH viewing potential. Yet, far from a permanent ‘new normal’, many of those habits acquired in lockdown have already diminished.

Still, the fragmentation of digital channels over the last five years should discourage any planner from thinking that younger and older age groups will soon behave the same way when interacting with media. For most campaigns, multi-channel is still crucial. While 16-34s spent a whopping 78% of their commercial media time with digital channels last year, linear TV still commands a weekly reach of almost 70% among this age group. Despite the proliferation of digital media, there still remains no channel (except OOH) that commands a weekly reach of 9 in 10 adults of any age group.

If there’s one thing to take away from this report, it’s that stereotypes of target audiences are meaningless in the digital age. No, TV isn’t dying, and yes, over-55s do consume AV. But under the surface, vital differences remain. While media reach is converging, time spent per channel still makes us vastly different. A successful campaign will be one that recognises such nuances.