Should I opt for mass communication after 12?

Long-term study of mass communication and ARD / ZDF online study: Beautiful digital video world

More and more people in Germany are using the Internet. It has long since ceased to be just a new type of media: there is no longer 'the' Internet, rather the technical infrastructure of the digital network provides a cornucopia of functionalities that shape social and cultural life. Online communication is practiced as diverse as digital media content is produced and appropriated for the Internet.

At the Trend reporting by the VOCER Millennial Lab We research and analyze the market for media offers aimed at millennials, summarize relevant studies and provide international insights into journalism for new target groups. In this article we highlight the relevant results of the “long-term study on mass communication” and the ARD / ZDF online study.

These fundamental transformation processes of the media environment and media use call for longitudinal studies that, for reasons of comparability, can only depict change with clear reference categories. With the long-term study on mass communication, on behalf of the ARD / ZDF research commission, people from the age of 14 have been surveyed every five years about their media usage behavior and their assessments of media offers across the board since the early 1960s. It reliably provides impressions of a continuously changing media society from the point of view of the media-using population. The ARD / ZDF online study has also been published annually since 1997 with a detailed focus on Internet use in Germany. Mass communication trends have also appeared annually since 2017 in order to be able to more precisely document the overarching, increasingly rapid changes in the analog and digital media industry.

Both the long-term study and the online study are coming up with new survey data this year, which continue certain trends that have already emerged in previous years and record some new spikes that are relevant for the work of journalists and the strategic development of news offers are.

Who is funding the study?

The two public broadcasters ARD and ZDF have had a special commission since 1967, in which the state broadcasters, the program directors and the marketing companies are represented. In the so-called media commission, joint projects in the field of media usage research are carried out.

The ARD / ZDF online study has been providing basic data on Internet use in Germany every year since 1997. Since the end of 2015, a project group in the new study series "Media and their audience" has been taking care of the further development of the long-term study on mass communication in order to react to the advanced digital media change and the use of the variety of offers and functions of media offers, especially with a view to the digital media environment, in a differentiated representative manner be able to record and classify in a long-term comparison. Since 2017, in the years without data from the long-term survey, reference data on media use with a focus on electronic media offers has been published annually under the title “Mass Communication Trends (MK Trends)”.

ARD / ZDF project group mass communication
German-speaking population aged 14 and over in Germany
Collection procedure:
Computer-aided telephone survey (CATI)
Interview duration:
an average of 25 minutes
Survey period:
January 31 (March 9) to April 27, 2020
Merged sample of both studies:
approx. 3,000 respondents (1,800 respondents via landline, 1,200 respondents via mobile phone)

Significance of the study results

The long-term study of mass communication and the online study of the ARD / ZDF project group are based on a quantitative survey design. A fundamental limitation with regard to the meaningfulness of the study results is related to the type of survey: The respondents are asked to rationalize ex-post, i.e. they are asked to explicitly refer to their media actions on the previous day or in the past week remember and rate it. In addition, they are asked to estimate the useful life of various media offers. In view of the strong interlocking of the use of (digital) media offers in the course of the day, the respondents inevitably lead to inaccuracies and misjudgments.

The authors themselves note that transiently used and especially short media content (e.g. videos in social networks) may be remembered more poorly than habitual media action. In this respect, it can be assumed that the survey data collected would differ from a technically based recording of usage data (“tracing”). However, the uniform survey design of the long-term study ensures that it is valid. The methodological concept of the long-term study is gradually being adapted again and again - in an attempt to achieve the greatest possible update capability - in order to take up relevant new developments.

The most important results of the current survey of the long-term study on mass communication and the ARD-ZDF online study are in this regard with a view to the young target group of adolescents and young adults:

In-depth mediation: One of the most serious changes was registered in the age group of 14 to 29 year olds with the almost complete saturation of everyday life. A higher average daily media usage time has never been determined than in the current survey of the long-term study on mass communication. The media consumption of adolescents and young adults has increased steadily over the course of the day: net of 14- to 29-year-olds spend around eight and a half hours a day with media, as in 2010 and 2015, but gross usage time skyrocketed due to the greatly intensified parallel use of several media a record of nearly ten and a half hours (621 minutes) - one hour more than five years ago. This means that teenagers and young adults, for example, chat more often with their friends while watching a Netflix series via WhatsApp or spend their time listening to music and gaming at the same time. The term used here is condensed use - with the risk of an increasingly incidental appropriation of the content consumed. The everyday life of the younger population can therefore no longer be imagined without technical communication media. The corona lockdown has certainly contributed to the further consolidation, nonetheless a trend that has been emerging for a decade is continuing.

Comprehensively networked: Digital media offerings are now omnipresent due to the mobile usage options due to the expansion of broadband networks - especially in the everyday life of adolescents and young adults. Printed periodicals such as daily newspapers and magazines only need to be booked under also running (6 percent usage in the age group). However, the traditional electronic media have recently fallen even more sharply than before: TV and radio from over 70 percent each in 2015 to currently only 38 percent and 51 percent in the ranks of Generation Z and Generation Y / Millennials. An unmistakable 97 percent of the courted target group are online every day (compared to 72 percent of all respondents). They use Internet services 388 minutes a day (around 90 percent longer than the total number of respondents), of which media content accounts for 257 minutes, which is more than double that of all respondents. And: While only every second respondent uses the so-called media internet every day, i.e. receives produced media content, among the younger ones it is nine out of ten. The difference can also be determined by the fact that analog media belong to the repertoire for 57 percent of the total population aged 14 and over, but only for one in four to five of the younger ones.

Online day in, day out: The authors of the study describe the ubiquity of digitally networked media technology as the decisive driver of this general increase in usage, which mainly blurs the boundaries between individual and mass communication due to the increased importance of social media in use: the majority of the younger population already use their smartphones in the early morning to get information or to chat online, and does not put the device on the bedside table until the light has long gone out. Compared to the other types of media, internet usage remains constant throughout the day and only decreases again in the late evening. Here, too, there is a clear difference to the population as a whole, in which the average Internet use during the day only achieves a fraction of the range and in which the traditional media types at the classic usage times in the morning (newspaper, radio) and evening (television) - albeit declining - assert their relevance.


Tell me what's keeping you here? In the current survey, for pragmatic reasons, the research group refrained from answering some questions, surprisingly also the one about the connection to certain media offers. In 2015, it was still determined how significantly the personal connection to the Internet as a technological infrastructure of mediated communication among young users is related to the fact that they practice their interpersonal exchange to a large extent online. Five years ago, two-way communication (chatting, posting, sending e-mails or using messaging services) was by far the most important online activity for users under 30: 87 percent of those surveyed said at the time that they would miss it Communicate via the Internet, whereas only 38 percent would not read newspaper websites and four out of ten respondents would miss news from search engines or Internet providers. While two thirds of the 14 to 29 year olds no longer wanted to miss the Internet, it was only just under half of the 30 to 49 year olds and less than a third of the over 50 year olds. The importance of direct interpersonal communication via the network can currently be derived from the high importance of the corresponding apps and portals such as WhatsApp (92 percent of the younger ones), Instagram (53 percent) and Snapchat (27 percent) in daily use.

The demographic break in the use of moving images: Nowhere are the different habits in the type of media use more evident than in a direct comparison between people younger than and those over the age of 30: While linear program television in Corona times remains by far the most frequently used contact point for moving images in the overall mean of respondents aged 14 and over , YouTube and streaming services have the largest user potential on the Internet. The youngest age group surveyed is a pioneer here: 79 percent of 14 to 29 year olds regularly watch videos on YouTube, 71 percent on (other) streaming services - significantly more than linear television programs (54 percent). In the other age groups, traditional program television is clearly ahead, although it has shown declining values ​​in a long-term comparison and is now at the reach level of 1985. For young people, video is now ahead of audio for the first time: the perception category of seeing has increased enormously by seven percentage points in the past five years and is shaping the daily media menu for 46 percent of adolescents and young adults (44 percent audio, 10 percent text). All online video offers taken together have an all-time high in popularity among 98 percent of younger users (compared to a little more than two-thirds of all respondents).


Radio vs. streaming: While the linear radio had secured a supposedly sustainable place as a (car) mobile companion in large parts of the population, the strength of the music streaming services is evident in the domestic phase of the corona pandemic. Compared to the previous year, there is a clear shift here: radio continues to drop to just under 36 minutes per day, while streaming, on the other hand, grows from 32 to 44 minutes. For 80 percent of young people, streaming dominates the musician's life - especially Spotify. However, YouTube has also positioned itself with its music service and, as runner-up, is heard by around one in ten young respondents. Only 42 percent (30-49 years) and 12 percent (50+ years) of older respondents use these subscription services.

Podcasts show stable development: Podcasts as voice-centered audio content do not seem to benefit profusely from the general trend towards online on-demand streaming. As in the previous year, they continue to reach around a quarter of young users and 12 percent of all respondents aged 14 and over.

Those who see and hear more have less time to read. The increasing number of users of moving images and audio seem to be at the expense of reading: Young people use text content on the Internet much less on an average day than five years ago (24 instead of 49 minutes). The study team is unsure whether this is a trend that is expressed "in a reduced importance of editorial texts".


Platforms as dynamic hubs: Instagram is way ahead of the WhatsApp messaging service among teenagers and twentysomethings: more than two thirds of them say they visit the former photo network every day. In recent years, Instagram has increasingly become an integrated social network with a multitude of functionalities and options for user interaction and publication of media content. This is followed by Facebook with steadily declining popularity among younger users (currently at 44 percent) and Snapchat with a remarkably stable 41 percent. TikTok is already 9 percent ahead of Twitter. It is highly likely that strong momentum will continue to be seen here.

Trust turns out to be a hard currency: It has repeatedly been shown that young people have a strong understanding of quality and place high demands on media information offers in particular. The fact that this is (often) not reflected in daily reach and offer rankings is undoubtedly an unsolved problem. Nevertheless, the survey results of the long-term study on mass communication show how clearly 14 to 29-year-olds sometimes differentiate between public and commercial media providers when they are asked to evaluate credibility and communication skills: The public broadcasters achieve with their radio and TV offers (also digital) in the youngest age group of the survey even together had higher credibility values ​​than the mean of all survey participants. But newspapers and magazines (as a type of media) also achieve top values. The streaming services are a bit behind, but with a significantly higher level of popularity among the younger ones they can hold their own in the midfield compared to the overall average. Social media, on the other hand, are lagging behind: Less than a third of the younger respondents think that Instagram, Facebook, etc. offer credible content. The 14 to 29-year-olds ascribe relevant topics mainly and even more to the print media than to the public radio and television providers, although they are most likely to opt for public news for political information. It is also significant that for 67 percent of younger people the media reality corresponds to their own perception of the world - here they are on par with those surveyed over the age of 70. There are only a few doubters among young people.

Journalists advertise with lots of fresh ideas, relevant topics and an impressive variety of forms to be noticed and valued by young people online. However, your content rarely reaches the target group you are looking for. What do the collected results of the long-term study on mass communication and the ARD / ZDF online study say about current opportunities and promising approaches?

  1. Provide orientation
    Generation Z (early 20s) and the slightly older millennials have an immense interest in news. The phases of their life require them to have a higher degree of orientation in many subject areas and the world as such that were previously unknown to them. But the only thing missing is time: puberty, graduation from school, cutting the cord from parental living space, vocational training, studying, starting a job and starting a family. It has always been difficult to bind young people to specific sources of information in the medium to long term in these phases of extremely dense lifestyle. Under the impression of omnipresent digital media use with a highly differentiated media offer, it is often not only the recognizability of journalistic content that determines the success or failure of an offer, but also the pleasure principle: an attractive demarcation from everything that attracts and stimulates digital media. At least the starting point seems favorable: Young people value the credibility of established news organizations highly, even higher than their parents and grandparents. They listen to podcasts and read texts on the Internet, albeit less, but very specifically.And they are increasingly gathering information about video offers on the Internet.
  2. Promote news literacy
    So that it does not remain with the mere hope that adolescents and young adults find their way to the right professional news offer when there is an urgent need for information, it is important to further sensitize them to the value of journalistic content. It remains a major (joint) task of educational policy, school education and also journalistic practice to promote news literacy; Because nowadays it is harder than ever to spot high quality news content in social media 'news feeds' and 'timelines'. Journalistic content leads a shadowy existence in the incessant succession of the most varied of postings. Those who do not actively search or target their information routines have difficulties in finding relevant reports. As a result, the consumption of news easily degenerates into an intellectual Herculean task - because the level of reflection required of online audiences is enormous in view of the mass of content that can quickly become overwhelming.
  3. Report in a solution-oriented manner
    The volatile changes in the digital media environment are (also) a source of stress for young people with a digital affinity - a tendency that is likely to have intensified during the corona lockdown. If the media are too acidic - also due to the news burning glass on impending pandemic statistics - it is likely that media use will be overridden towards entertainment and diversion offers. Such "news fatigue" requires more than an open ear for the needs of the (young) audience, who, due to the almost traditionally problematic and conflict-oriented reporting focus, turn away from established news offers because they simply piss them off or get on their nerves walk. Constructive and solution-oriented approaches in journalism start here and promise - combined with a consistent inclusion of the user perspective - relevant added value for young people who are valued by them. It is not about simple recipes, but the attempt to point out perspectives, as complicated as they may be.
  4. Discuss values
    The more journalism that takes into account the everyday social worlds of adolescents and young adults generates valuable content and communicates it with the participation of the target group, the more likely it is that a net turnaround will succeed. A high need for value discussions and attitude-oriented communication does not necessarily have to result in the delimitation of journalistic rule structures: However, especially in local journalism, there is often a lack of direct contact with the young population and their view of the wide world in the local reality. Transfer ('breaking down' topics) and the joy of creative combination are old and new skills that shape journalistic tools when young people break the boundaries in their heads and negotiate values ​​with themselves and others. The task of journalism is to contribute to enlightenment and to carry young voices authentically into the debates of society as a whole.
  5. Don't kill the messenger
    In the current situation of tense social coexistence due to pandemic infection protection requirements and political polarization, news media are perceived as the bearer of ominous messages. In any case, brand awareness for news offers is low among young people and must first be shaped. Many media companies are wasting great opportunities in this regard, because they do not see themselves sufficiently as polyphonic mediators of social self-understanding, but rather as solitary chroniclers and, at best, commentators on what is happening. This not only makes them uninteresting, but also makes them the target of frustration. The high credibility values ​​for public broadcasting and press products are less evidence of a high level of brand loyalty; on the contrary: the actual usage values ​​for younger age cohorts are marginal in comparison. However, they allow the conclusion that there is a high (diffuse) trust in traditional media institutions, which may be seen as an expression of a widespread longing for sustainability and reliability. News providers should therefore reflect on their strengths as reputable sources of information and profile themselves accordingly - but do not forget to become more approachable, more accessible and more sociable.

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