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Engaging the Fragmented Family

Household metrics feel obsolete in the era of the mediavidual
  • January 16 2012

The days of the average American family with 2.4 children settling in together for an evening of “Must See TV” have long since passed. Saturday night TV is now an afterthought and Fridays are close behind unless Grimm can turn it around.

Changing demographics alone did not end the ritual of family co-viewing or the dominance of Saturday Night TV as a prime time ritual. But changing demographics in combination with a real-time media landscape have fueled what could easily be called a new era of the “Fragmented Family.”

The composition of the American family and the “TV household” continues to morph because of economic conditions and kids returning back to the home. A growing number of young adults—with their distinct media itineraries—are now living with their folks. The percentage of men age 25 to 34 living in the home of their parents rose from 14 percent in 2005 to 19 percent in 2011 and from 8 percent to 10 percent over the same period for women. (These statistics come from America's Families and Living Arrangements: 2011, a series of tables that look at the socioeconomic characteristics of families and households at the national level.)

Similarly, 59 percent of men age 18 to 24 and 50 percent of women that age resided in their parents' home in 2011, up from 53 percent and 46 percent, respectively, in 2005.

Moreover, multicultural families continue to be among the fastest growing demographic groups. This diversity dynamic” creates even more complexity in understanding the changing media habits of the American family. Younger, more acculturated ethnic segments influence their parents and a mainstream, cross-cultural mindset is increasingly influencing music, programming, content and entertainment.

So in this changing digital and diversity environment, who has control of the TV remote or is this even a question worth asking?

Let’s dig a little deeper into the context of the TV household. The average family of five probably owns five phones, four TV’s, three-to-four PC’s, an iPad, a Kindle and two gaming systems. This gives all members of the family an open playground to express themselves—a “mediavidual” vs. a household rating.

Within this multi-screen home environment, it is no longer about a single remote. While we may be a nation of a 100MM TV households, this metric seems so obsolete.

Every night offers a distinctly different media schedule for all members of the household. Is there really a fight for the remote when Sunday Night Football competes against Desperate Housewives? Or does the family split off with the kids Skyping their friends, Mom watching the final season from the bedroom and Dad surfing between the Giants game and Spartacus on a 55-inch Samsung in the downstairs media room?

While it is still important to understand the number of TV households and household ratings, we also need to understand a new range of household mediagraphics that capture the habits of a fragmented family. Clearly this gives marketers more opportunity to precisely engage their key target segments. But marketers must also identify and leverage those increasingly more rare “Fusion Family” moments that unite disparate family media habits. For the Gagnon family, Modern Family is one of the few things we can all agree to watch together.


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