- TV is having a “senior moment”; the number of shows featuring senior lead characters has exploded in recent years. With huge swaths of Boomers entering their twilight years, catering to the older set with programs such as The Cool Kids and Grace and Frankie has become a practical—and profitable—endeavor. (The Wall Street Journal)
- NH: This trend has several drivers. First, rates of TV viewing among 50+ Americans are continuing to rise as Boomers and early-wave Xers flood that age bracket and carry their heavy lifelong TV-viewing habits with them. Combine this rising rate with an equally impressive rise in numbers, and you've get hordes of new "senior" TV viewers. Meanwhile, Millennials and Homelanders are spending fewer hours per week watching TV. (Their total screen time hours are rising, but it's mainly due to social media--not TV: See Nielsen data charted below.) Last spring, the median age of top network TV shows like "The Voice" was 57.3. More remarkably, the median age of "The Big Bang Theory" was 56.2. Is it any wonder that programmers are looking for content a bit more appropriate to viewers 20 years above the median age than to viewers 20 years below it? What's more, the growing relative wealth of senior audiences is becoming too important for advertisers to ignore. A lot more affluent Boomers are working past age 65, which means they have both more spending dollars at stake and less time available for other (non-TV) media like newspapers or magazines.
- There's also a broader cultural reality: American popular culture has tended to cater to Boomers throughout their lives, regardless of their age. (See: "The Aging of Aquarius.") This isn't just by dint of their large numbers. It's due to the Boomers' lifelong passion and reputation for cultural innovation. Such is the historic pattern of generations like Boomers that belong to the "prophet archetype." We've already noticed this happening in music concerts and in movies (see: "The Silver-Haired Screen") and in entertainment spending by age (see: "Entertainment Spending Falls as Young Consumers Cut Back"). This trend will continue. The pop culture of the late-1960s and 1970s was all about the values of youth--with older generations going along. The pop culture of the 2020s, we anticipate, will mostly feature the values of seniors--with younger generations going along.
- In a recent experiment, only 55% of Chinese university students used uncensored Internet after being given access by researchers. For many risk-averse Chinese Millennials, life behind the country’s Great Firewall is not oppressive, but rather is safe: “As the younger generation, we don’t know how to filter that incorrect information by ourselves.” (ABC News)
- NH: Who says that "The Coddling of the American Mind" (to cite the title of a new bestseller by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff) only has to do with American youth? These interviews suggest that trigger alerts and safe spaces have equal resonance with the rising generation in China, which generally approves of government censorship. "We absolutely shouldn't browse bad, harmful and incorrect content," warns one Chinese college freshman in Hunan. The interviews were prompted by a research experiment involving 1,800 Beijing students. The researchers offered half of their subjects free access (via VPN) to uncensored content. Very few of those offered uncensored access took much advantage of it. The purpose of the ABC interviews was to find out why. Unlike older Chinese, this emerging "Generation Firewall" typically has no memory of a free Internet. And most of them think that's just fine.
- Petco is removing all artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives from its entire line of pet food products. This move was motivated by a shift in consumer habits: The very same shoppers who are buying all-natural foodstuffs for their own consumption want to make sure that their beloved pets get the same treatment. (Associated Press)
- NH: Pet care is an industry enjoying a long-term tear. (See: "Pet Care: The Four-Legged Bull Market.") As befits such an industry, few firms are competing much on price. They are mostly competing on adding layer after layer of extra "premium value"--real or imagined--for the "parents" of pets.
- Fully 45% of 18- to 29-year-olds have cancelled social plans to binge-watch a TV show, nearly double the 24% of TV watchers overall. Across the board, young people are far more likely than their elders to be making dubious choices for the sake of TV marathons, including staying up all night, eating less healthy food and forgoing exercise, and watching shows at work. (Morning Consult)
- NH: While older generations average more per-capita weekly hours of TV viewing time than Millennials--and this gap is growing--Millennials are the undisputed champions of the binge watch. Chalk this up to the rising quality of on-demand TV content--and the new temptation (encouraged by Netflix) to devour it all in one sitting. We've said all along that this generation has long been unjustly derided for its short attention spans when reading (see: "Millennials: A Generation of Page-Turners"). Now we can say ditto for TV watching. Amazingly, 60% of Millennials who watch on-demand TV "binge-watch" at least two episodes in a row at least once a week.
- In an op-ed, Stanford professor Glenn Kramon urges his fellow Boomers to give back to their kids as volunteers and philanthropists. It’s the newest entry in what’s begun to feel like a generational apology tour, with Kramon telling Boomers that reforming their reputation starts with “less takin’ and more givin.” (The New York Times)
- NH: Sure, there's plenty of hand-wringing going on. (See: "Vote for the Kids.") Boomers grew up as children in an era when the cost of raising kids was heavily subsidized (well-funded public schools, great teachers, lots of infrastructure, and no need for student loans) and the cost of senior dependency remained largely uncovered by government. Today they are retiring in an era when everything is inverted: The cost of childhood has been privatized and the cost of growing old now dominates both federal and state budgets. If you want to re-level the playing field, you need to find a way to re-engineer our entire political economy. Volunteering to help the schools or the scouts--while commendable--is just not going to correct the problem.
- Ad-buying season for Super Bowl LIII is right around the corner—a once-joyous occasion for brands that has instead become fraught with political implications. The controversy surrounding NFL player protests is forcing companies to take sides during advertising’s biggest event, which may have been middle America’s last remaining neutral ground. (The Wall Street Journal)
- In an essay adapted from his new book, Encore.org CEO Marc Freedman proposes a solution to the loneliness epidemic: promoting intergenerational interaction. He highlights multiple examples of public officials working to connect different generations over shared goals, but overlooks that this trend is already playing out right at home as more kids, parents, and grandparents shack up under one roof. (The Wall Street Journal)
- NH: Agreed: This author completely overlooks the great renaissance of extended-family living that has occurred over the last ten or fifteen years. Back in 1980, only 12% of Americans lived in multigenerational households (an all-time low). Today, 20% do. And most of that growth has happened since the GFC. One other problem with the essay is that many of the nonprofits he lauds for promoting young-old partnerships have a long history of opposing any cuts to any public-benefit program. And senior benefits now dominate all benefit spending. Indeed, AARP and (later) Generations United have long opposed efforts to change Medicare or Social Security. Unless we want a much larger public sector (which ought to be a separate debate), spending more publicly on the young will necessarily require spending less on the old.
- A new piece documents the rise of “nanoinfluencers,” social media personalities with at least 1,000 followers who hawk products for cash. This arrangement is beneficial for brands that want to tap into a younger demographic, as well as for Millennials and Homelanders who want to turn their passion for social media into profit. (The New York Times)
- NH: This is a depressing picture of how the entrepreneurial dream has been devalued. Imagine millions of teen Homelanders spending 20 or 30 hours per week "investing" in their personal Web brands and then "selling" those brands to Fortune 500 corporations at the rate of $0.001 per dollar of revenue. From such "nano" entrepreneurs, hiring out their personal identities and engaging in essentially negative-sum marketing campaigns, we are to expect our next Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos? I don't think so.
- Columnist Megan McArdle asks how America ended up raising “Generation Paranoia.” Her main contention is that social media and protective parenting have helped create a generation of young adults that is anxious at every turn—which has plenty of truth to it, but ignores the fact that many of Millennials’ worries (such as ending up worse off financially than their parents) are entirely justified. (The Washington Post)
- The Chinese Communist Party is grappling with the rise of K-pop, which some officials worry is corrupting boys by promoting an unmanly obsession with grooming. In reality, K-pop is just one of many reasons (including the rise of social media and the fading of age-old gender stereotypes) why young men worldwide are spending more time looking in the mirror. (The Economist)
- NH: What's fascinating here is the argument among party leaders about whether this trend is bad or good. Those who think it's bad say, predictably, that "effeminate" men won't be able to serve as patriots in China's future national struggles. Those who say it's good point out that men preoccupied with preening and pleasing the ladies are not the sort of men who will resist the state. So that's a good thing, apparently. Uncle Xi's team would rather grit their teeth over the sappy sound of K-Pop than face down another regime-threatening Tiananmen Square rebellion.
DID YOU KNOW?
Retailers in Need of a Christmas Miracle. Traditionally, Black Friday marks the start of an optimistic holiday season for U.S. brick-and-mortar retailers. But this year, even amid expectations of rising YoY store traffic in Q4, the retail sector isn’t yet counting its blessings. Why? One reason is the looming threat posed by Amazon and its e-commerce peers: Online stores are expected to account for 18.9 percent of holiday sales this year, up a full percentage point from 2017. Faced with this rising competition, and flush with cash from lower business tax rates, stores have opted to spend on upgrades (both brick-and-mortar as well as online) in order to draw in customers. The result has been a profit squeeze: Retail firms such as Target and TJX (parent company of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods) have reported shrinking margins despite rising sales. The deep discounts associated with the holiday season will only make this situation worse. But for a sector that was supposed to be decimated by a “retailpocalypse” by now, retail at least offers investors a glimmer of hope.