What My Kids Tell Me About The Future of Media

I was reading a Goldman Sachs research report on the radio business on the plane back from Australia. I came across this chart of EBITDA multiples versus EBITA growth rates for various media categories.


There’s not a ton of insight in that chart, but it got me thinking if I could learn anything about the various media categories from watching my teenage children. Here’s what I’ve observed over the past year.

1) When they walk into a DVD store, they rarely walk out with a movie. It’s almost always the first season of a TV show they’ve heard is good. They’ll go see a movie in the theater but don’t really enjoy watching movies at home or on their computers. They feel that TV shows are better written and more interesting.  And the entertainment value is certainly more compelling. For roughly $40US, they got something like 25 episodes of Brothers and Sisters. That’s almost 17 hours of entertainment for $40. That’s hard to beat. And they get the bonus of being able to stat watching the show on TV once they’ve caught up.

It makes me wonder where this is headed. I don’t know enough about the economics of TV shows versus fims, but it may be that digital technology is changing the way the younger generation will consume filmed entertainment in some important ways. Something to think about. And maybe why the writers are striking.

2) They will play games whenever given the opportunity. My oldest, Jessica, favors brick breaker on her blackberry and admits to be close to addicted. She claims to know kids who play it under the desk at school. My middle child Emily seems to have been pulled into gaming via her social network. She likes to compete with her friends for the high score on a simple but engaging Facebook game called Jetman. And my son Josh will play games on everything from his phone to his computer to my computer to his xbox. It doesn’t matter what game it is and what device its on. He likes TV, movies, and games and seems to move effortlessly between all these forms of entertainment as if they were all the same.

3) When we were without broadband internet for three days in the barrier reef, they were a little antsy but were able to stay on top of Facebook messages via my blackberry. When we got back to a broadband internet connection, they spent the afternoon happily entertained by the Internet for hours. Emily had a huge smile on her face so I asked her what she’d do without the Internet. She said, “dad, the Internet is my primary form of entertainment”. She’ll happily turn off Facebook and AIM and watch TV with her siblings at night, but she’d happily stay online too.

4) The only time they listen to radio is when we have it on in the car for short rides. If it’s a long ride, we almost always plug in the iPod and they’ll take turns DJ’ing. Jessica is an amazing DJ if I may say so myself. She has mastered the art of gracefully moving from The Beatles, to the Arctic Monkeys, to some obscure new band I’ve never heard of and not miss a beat. In my generation, she’d have been working the high school or college radio station. Now she’s more likely to start an mp3 blog.

Speaking of mp3 blogs, they find all of their music on the Internet via myspace, last.fm, hype machine, mp3 blogs, and social networking with their friends. And when they find a cool new band, they friend them on Facebook and get an invite to their next gig. Nothing’s really changed about music other than the way kids connect to it. They still use music to make friends, qualify someone’s coolness (or lack thereof), kickstart parties, and make doing homework a bit more tolerable.

5) They still read books the way we did as kids. That doesn’t seem to have changed a bit. They read them for school, they read them for entertainment, and they read them lying in bed waiting to be tired enough to turn off the lights. My son Josh read four 600 page Harry Potter books on our two week trip and he’s not a super fast or voracious reader. But he likes reading. All my kids do. Might books be the only medium that remains unaffected by the Internet (except the ease of finding and buying them)?

6) They love magazines and read all the fashion, cooking, and gossip magazines they can get their hands on. They read about the same topics online and on TV (particularly food), but they show no signs of moving away from the magazine. In fact, I detect a growing obsession with magazines among my family. They literally fight over a new issue the day it arrives.

7) They don’t seem particularly interested in newspapers. They get most of their news on the Internet. Josh will read the sports pages over breakfast and the girls will glance at the front page. Important current events and politics will sometimes generate enough interest that they’ll read the front page portion of a story and then launch into a discussion over breakfast. But I don’t see a commitment to newspapers like we have in my generation and my parents generation.

So what does that tell me about the Goldman chart and these various categories?

– video games and Internet should be enjoying the highest multiples but there’s no surprise there. the market has that figured out.

– newspapers and radio should be suffering from the lowest multiples and again the market has that figured out.

– there are sectors of the entertainment business that are better than others. if my kids are a good sample (and i have no idea if they are), then TV is a better category to be in than films.

– the music business is still a good business, kids are still listening to music the way we did. they are finding it differently and paying for it differently, but they still consume it as passionately as we did. it tells me that those who figure out the new model in music are going to do well. it won’t be the major labels though.

– mass market magazines might be undervalued. the goldman chart doesn’t show those multiples. and i don’t know if there are any good public market pure plays in the magazine business, but they might be a good contrarian play if there are.

– books may be the one category of media and entertainment that aren’t disrupted by digital technology. or maybe we just haven’t seen the technology that will do it. i honestly don’t know. and i don’t know how the book business is faring versus five or ten years ago. but at least in my family, books are still a growth sector.

Of course, my sample of three kids who live together, were raised by the same parents, and have access to most of what they want may not be and probably isn’t representative. which is why i posted this. i’d love to hear other thoughts on these categories and maybe there’s something we can learn and profit from.

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