Oh, Grow Up: Digital Oldsters Rock

When you head over the river, through the woods, past TSA screeners and/or tollbooth lines, and you finally get to Grandmother’s house/condo for the holidays, check out how she and gramps are plugged into digital media.

They (or maybe it’s you) are likely prodigious users of digital media, reflecting the widely ignored reality that age 55+ is the fastest-growing category of online and broadband users.

Specifically, a new Burst Media study shows that more than 26% of males and 19% of females over age 55 “took action” (such as making a purchase or visiting an advertisers’ website) after seeing an online ad. Those levels of engagement are far higher (almost triple in the case of males) than similar actions by the coveted 18-to-34 bracket, and about equal to or slightly higher than online response rates of 35-to-54-year-olds.

Another study by Forrester Research found that American consumers in the 56-to-66 set spent an average of $367 on online purchases during the summer quarter, more than double the average spending of the 18-to-22-year-old demographic.

While some marketing and media traditionalists still believe that older “digital immigrants” are set in their ways and buying patterns, these ongoing studies reinforce the reality that age doesn’t matter. Clearly there is a drop-off in online usage among the oldest old, but as “60 becomes the new 40,” opportunities are expanding for Baby Boomaudiences to embrace broadband services.

For example, the latest Horowitz and Associates Inc. broadband study recognizes that TV set viewing is still the favored format for older viewers (age 50+ in this case): 89% versus 75% for all viewers over age 18. But when asked whether they watch video on a computer or handheld device (smartphone or tablet), about 7% of the 50+ audience said “Yes,” they watch about equally on all platforms. In this nascent sector, their responses were not that different from the 13% of all ages who say they view videos at equivalent levels on TV and wired/wireless broadband.

At a recent seminar sponsored by “Get Older Adults onLine”, the group’s founder Debra Berlyn acknowledged that older Americans are still less likely to be online than the population at large. GOAL, which has financial backing from Comcast, Time Warner Cable and NCTA, along with telco and other funders, is among many groups encouraging seniors to expand their online usage in order to take advantage of the growing array of financial, health and other services that are being delivered via broadband.

Another group leading this march of seniors toward broadband engagement is Older Adult Technology Services, which is backed by the New York Academy of Medicine.

(Disclosure: I consult to AARP on digital media and telecom projects; all of the data above are from publicly available sources as indicated.)

So during your holiday visit to family — or their visits to you — find out how much broadband is part of their lives. The personal and family opportunities are obvious — photo and video sharing, grandparenting and more.

The business values are even greater, as e-commerce, entertainment and other digital companies are recognizing.

Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications LLC in Bethesda, Md., and a long-time interactive TV enthusiast. Reach him at GArlen@ArlenCom.com

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.