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The widening generation gap – demographic differences dictate Saudi Arabia's starkly diverse media consumption habits

SAUDI ARABIA.  According to a new report by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the digital age has ushered in a number of trends that have transformed the media consumption habits of each Saudi generation profoundly – and vastly differently.

In parallel, with information and connectivity available at everyone’s fingertips – anywhere, anytime – the Kingdom’s traditional media landscape has, in recent years, been disrupted.

The findings presented in BCG’s survey – which focuses on media consumption trends in the Kingdom and covers 1,555 Saudis aged 15-65 – are expected to spark radical changes across Saudi Arabia and in turn redefine its media industry. 

“The study found that Saudis belonging to the post-millennial Generation Z (born in 1995 or later) have started to abandon traditional media platforms in favor of digital ones, possibly proving that new media platforms can position themselves not just as a complement to traditional platforms but maybe even as an alternative,” said Pablo Martinez, Media Partner at BCG Middle East.

“On the other hand, Generation Y, the millennial generation born between 1981 and 1994, adopt a complementary approach to media consumption – they use both digital and traditional media platforms in equal measure.”

He also added, “Lastly and unsurprisingly, Saudi Arabia’s Generation X, born between 1961 and 1981, is active online yet still heavily reliant on traditional media platforms such as newspapers, magazines, and TV.”

Generational Content Rifts Punctuate the Information Age

While a rising number of young Saudis don’t read the newspaper, traditional platforms such as television (TV) remain highly popular media platforms for Generation Z – and Saudi consumers of all age groups. The proof of this is that 95 percent of Saudi Arabia’s Generation X and 89 percent of Generation Z watch TV.

                   Figure 1 – % respondents stating they don’t use the platform at all

 As for the time spent in front of that particular screen, more than one third of Saudis (38 percent) spend over two hours a day watching TV. This strongly indicates that, despite being well in the throes of the digital age, Saudis of all ages perceive television as an imperative mode of entertainment.

For Saudi Arabia’s Generation Z, however, TV is increasingly becoming less relevant than the online platform for consuming long-form video content: a total of 42 percent of Generation Z and 30 percent of Generation Y respondents spend more than two hours a day watching long-form videos. Only 15 percent of Generation X spend more than two hours a day doing the same.

 Figure 2 – time spent on watching long form videos online by generation

And while 18 percent of Saudi Arabia’s Generation Z prefer to watch video content on TV, the remaining 82 percent rely on digital platforms (with 38 percent preferring to consume video content using mobile devices).

This perfectly reflects the stark difference of behavior between those at both ends of the generation spectrum; it may also suggest that, with time, the explosive growth of online video may render television content redundant.

When it comes to short-form videos – so ones that last less than 20 minutes – the disparities in media consumption behaviors are similar.

Overall, there is certainly a distinction between generations when looking at the consumption of radio and TV. A total of 34 percent of Saudis spend more than 30 minutes per day listening to the radio, which can be considered ‘car entertainment’. Still, more than half of Generation Z do not listen to the radio at all compared to a quarter of Generation X. This is largely due to the fact that Generation X most probably listens to music online or on their mobile devices.

A closer look into the demographic makeup of Saudi newspaper-readers reveals that print readership is ageing in the Kingdom. A staggering 61 percent of Generation Z don’t read printed newspapers compared to 25 percent of Generation X and 40 percent of Generation Y.

The truth is, members of Generation Z now get their news fix online on social media.

Evidence of this is that Generation X and Y spend a considerably longer amount of time on digital platforms – reading the news – compared to Generation Z. In fact, 66 percent and 59 percent of Generation X and Y, respectively, say that they spend more than 30 minutes a day reading the news online – while only 40 percent of Generation Z state that they do the same.

Figure  3 – Time spent reading news online per generation

This is understandable given that Generation Z are true digital natives – they are young, tech-savvy and were born into a world where the notion of not being connected to others at all times (through social media) is simply inconceivable. By contrast, the majority of Saudi Arabia’s Generation X still rely on tangible print newspapers – although some also gravitate towards digital publications.

Based on BCG’s survey findings, there is no denying that the digital space’s appeal is more universal and transcends Saudi generations. The analysis shows that digital is the dominant media consumption platform among Saudi respondents: remarkably, over 93 percent of respondents across all three generations spend more than three hours a day on the Internet.

The reality is, the online world has, traditionally, provided young Saudis with the opportunity to network and connect with others virtually; in line with this, Saudi consumers across generations spend the most time online on social networks or messaging channels. More and more, however, Saudi media consumers – especially young ones – are using their time online to access media typically consumed on traditional platforms.

“In today’s digital world, each generation consumes content and absorbs information differently – so at different times, using different devices, and via different preferred platforms,” stated Martinez.

“This essentially means that reaching, engaging, informing and influencing each specific generation in Saudi Arabia entails a meticulously-crafted, tailored approach – not a one-size fits all solution. Understanding each age group’s particular consumption habits and interests is key to delivering an enhanced content experience to each generation – across traditional media.”

 The Future: What is at Stake?

It is no news that Saudi consumers are heavy digital consumers; however, their evolving online consumption habits are set to unleash major paradigm shifts for the Middle East’s media landscape.

So, what do these changes mean for different media and non-media players?

·         Traditional media broadcasters and publishers. Across TV, print and radio, traditional media players, many of whom have already embraced digital platforms, must focus on ensuring that they are able to effectively engage their target audience – and, more specifically, Generation Z – on these platforms. More importantly, they need to work on offering consumers a seamless, integrated experience that encompasses digital and traditional platforms. Failing to do so may jeopardize their leadership positions and cause audience erosion. In Saudi Arabia, for example, some traditionally-leading print newspapers are still struggling to establish a strong digital presence and, as a result, are feeling the pressure on their readership – and subsequently their finances.
·         Over-the-top (OTT)/digital-only players. Today’s media consumption trends will provide digital players – looking to build their credibility and secure their presence in the market – with strong opportunities for growth. As mentioned earlier, the print space has already been disrupted by digital-only players threatening the viability and survival of longstanding traditional newspapers. Given current consumption habits, this trend also has the potential to evolve over the long term and expand into other media spaces originally reserved to traditional platforms. Digital players – not restrained by traditional media habits and formats – have the opportunity to provide customized and attractive offerings especially designed for younger Generation Z consumers.
·         Content producers. Today, the content battle is no longer tied to traditional media players nor is it related to the platform on which it is being shown. Content will thus become increasingly important. While it is true that, amidst the possible overflow of new digital opportunities, content producers are expected to witness increases in demand – especially if non-traditional media players boost their content spend in the region – the challenge will lie in ensuring that the packaging of the content is tailored to each platform.
·         Advertisers and governments. Advertisers and governments – with the help of their media planners and buyers – need to embrace digital platforms and rework their communications mix based on data analytics and consumption touch points. This will become critical for them to ensure that they reach their target audience. It will also be key to helping them guarantee higher return on investment (ROI).

 “For the region’s media and communication industry, Saudi Arabia’s media consumption patterns carry many implications,” concluded Martinez. “After all, the Kingdom is one of the Arab world’s largest markets and its trends reflect those of other countries in the region. The growth of the digital space will have an impact on the overall value chain of the media landscape from content production to distribution.”

Photo Caption: Pablo Martinez, Media Partner at BCG Middle East

About The Boston Consulting Group
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global management consulting firm and the world’s leading advisor on business strategy. We partner with clients from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in all regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and transform their enterprises.

Our customized approach combines deep insight into the dynamics of companies and markets with close collaboration at all levels of the client organization. This ensures that our clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage, build more capable organizations, and secure lasting results. Founded in 1963, BCG is a private company with 85 offices in 48 countries.

For more information, please visit bcg.com.

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