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Germany's Teens and Digital Media: The Past 15 Years

The internet has grown from niche to mainstream in just a few years, transforming media behavior

In the past decade and a half, the lives of Germany’s teens have been dramatically altered by the arrival of digital media—but traditional channels including TV and radio remain widely popular too. That’s one conclusion of the most recent “Jugend, Information, (Multi-) Media” study, based on a survey of 12- to 19-year-olds and published by Medienpädagogischer Forschungsverbund Südwest (MPFS). This unique annual study has just marked its 15th year—making it the longest-running as well as the most comprehensive analysis of the media habits of the country’s teens.

Of course, the internet has come a long way in that time. In 1998, just 5% of teens in Germany were regular weekly web users, according to MPFS, and the number with access to a private internet connection was statistically nil. By 2013, 88% had easy access to the web; moreover, 80% of respondents said they had their own PC or laptop. As result, internet usage was uniformly high, with 90% of females and 89% of males saying they went online daily or several times per week.

The web has transformed many other activities, too. Gaming is a case in point. Fifteen years back, 38% of teens said they played computer games, but just 3% did so online. Last year, the proportion playing on a computer had halved, to 19%, but nearly one in three (29%) played online games.

Mobile devices have also changed the landscape dramatically. Between 2006 and 2013, the percentage of teen internet users going online through a computer or laptop dropped from 99% to 87%, while the proportion doing so with a feature phone or smartphone jumped from a mere 5% to 73%.

The survey also showed the overwhelming influence of Facebook on the country’s social network users. Before the global giant arrived in Germany in 2008, the leading social site was the homegrown community schülerVZ, attracting 45% of internet users ages 12 to 19. Fast-forward five years, and just 2% of MPFS respondents were still loyal to that network, while 80% were on Facebook. In fact, schülerVZ closed officially on April 30, 2013.

These findings align closely with data from GlobalWebIndex, which reported that of the 43% of internet users in Germany who visited any social network at least monthly in Q4 2013, almost all were Facebook users. studiVZ, a still-active affiliate of schülerVZ, registered just 1% penetration.

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