Silvia Leiva
Jul 26, 2017

How young minds engage in an always-on world

Research is shedding light on how children operate in today's on-demand, multi-screen environment: what draws them in, what they engage with and how they react, writes Silvia Leiva of Carat Asia Pacific.

Silvia Leiva
Silvia Leiva

There are some things that we have always known. Play is powerful. To engage and stimulate a child’s wondering mind, harness their imagination, foster unbridled creativity, organize thoughts, inspire role play and connect with others. Doing all of these things begins a journey of discovery of both themselves and also their role in the world that surrounds them. This strength has been stated by academics and philosophers for more than 2,000 years:

"Let your children's lessons take the form of play. You will learn more
about their natural abilities that way."  —Plato, 380 BC

The value of play remains just as vital today, but the means to design and scale “edu-taining” experiences has completely transformed. An explosion of technological advances has placed ‘play’ within a myriad of touchpoints, which rather than a needless distraction provides a priceless opportunity to deliver more stimuli, more engagement and more value for all of the same developmental reasons listed above. The combination, connectivity and fluidity of screen and real-world stimulus is the new normal for children today. Yes, it’s more prevalent. Yes, it’s around the clock. And definitely it is more complex—just like the world that these developing young minds are readying for.

With more choice than ever before and an unprecedented level of control over what they interact with and when, understanding how children operate in this complex environment—what draws them in, what they actively engage with, how they emotionally and physically react and then what they go on to do next—is a challenge that very few brands or educators have been able to grasp until now.

Carat's Kids Spectrum is a region-first deep dive into this subject. It overlays conventional child-friendly research methods (almost 7,000 'fun-terviews' across Asia to date) with COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act)-compliant programmatic data to uncover everything from kid’s favourite toys to what types of communication best pique their curiosity and stimulate their imaginations for meaningful playtime experiences.  

The research suggests that many old assumptions no longer hold true, while some timeless motivations remain as powerful as ever.

Immersive play is the new norm

Kids today expect their virtual screen experiences and their actual physical play to be seamlessly connected extensions of each other. Videos and gaming provide the inspiration, catalyst and even parameters for role-play in the real world—whether that be with character-centric toys, building bricks or physical activities. The stimulus fuels their imaginative play, empowering them to take control and decide what happens next. The desire for such stimulus is rich, varied and always on.

When it comes their favourite toys and characters, children favour screen experiences over physical playtime in most markets.
Across all device interactions, kids are immersing themselves distinctively in video mediums.

Big for short-form

Along with kids’ fondness for video stimulus, we also see a reciprocal relationship between traditional TV and mobile screens. Kids are seeking out similar video content across both screens. Cartoons are what they’re choosing to watch most on YouTube, not unlike the bulk of content on children’s broadcast channels. Additionally, as a typical day progresses, we see a spike in online video consumption as TV activity dips. Heading out to malls with parents follows this trend too, suggesting that online videos take on the role of TV content on-the-go.

However, consuming typical long-form TV content on the move means view time can be intermittent and easily interrupted. Bite-sized content complements this habit, as do sequential episodes over time to keep them engaged—breaking down complex story structures into component parts. Findings suggests that bold, character-centric, scene-setting content performs best at igniting their initial interest and that this appetite and interest can be sustained by subsequent layering, such as the development and interaction of characters.   

Video scaled the influence star

The sharp increase in kids’ video consumption has given rise to a number of hugely scalable online video influencers, many of whom are kids themselves. With film, game and toy reviews, tutorials, live gaming commentary and unboxing, there is no shortage of hunger for the diverse content that these young stars present. With videos achieving millions of views, in many cases their scale outweighs that of established broadcasters.

Kids have always been kids and the many facets of how kids play have always been an intrinsic and valuable part of their development. These insights allow us to better understand how media is consumed and what types of content kids in Asia are most interested in. 

Silvia Leiva is director of insights with Carat Asia Pacific

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