Spotify may be overtaking YouTube music for UK teenagers


YouTube remains a hugely popular for young people, but could Spotify really be overtaking it as their main music source?

That’s the claim in a new report, Gen Z: Meet the Young Millennials, published by Midia Research alongside an event held yesterday by British music-industry bodies the BPI and ERA.

The bodies commissioned the research to explore the music and digital-media habits of ‘young millennials’ – defined in this case as people aged up to 19.

The importance of YouTube is unsurprising, but the report offers some new stats on its scale among this age group in the UK.

It claims that YouTube (across all category types, not just music) has 94% monthly penetration among 16-19 year olds in the UK, as well as 87% for 12-15 year olds and 73% for 8-11 year olds.

Those are quite some numbers. Practically everyone in their late teens is using YouTube every month and the vast bulk of all young consumers are on it a lot.

Here comes the surprise: according to Midia, Spotify has now overtaken YouTube as the main music source for young millennials. While YouTube has a weekly penetration of 47% for 16-19-year-old consumers (compared to 26% for all ages), Spotify has a weekly penetration of 53% (18% for all ages).

(To stress, this was in response to a question about ‘what music apps’ 16-19 year-olds used – so it covered YouTube’s use for that particular form of entertainment.)

Spotify v YouTube

With the BPI and other bodies intent on proving that YouTube’s popularity is impeding the growth of subscription streaming services as part of their ‘value gap’ lobbying, this conclusion may come as a shock, given that it seems to pull the rug from under those claims.

Spotify is, it would appear, not exactly struggling to net young users – in the UK at least. The report does not make it clear what percentage of young consumers are using the free version of Spotify as opposed to what percentage have a subscription – whether one that they pay for, or as part of a family plan. Those figures would tell a tale.

Still, what lingers is the realisation that presuming that the younger someone is, the more of a freeloader they’re likely to be, may be a foolish view. In fact, the report finds that 67% of young millennials think music is worth paying for regularly, compared to 56% for overall consumers.

More findings from the report: 12% of the 16-19 year-olds surveyed say they use Amazon Prime Music on a weekly basis, while 12% say they are using Apple Music that often – in both cases, over-indexing compared to 8% for all consumers.

SoundCloud, Deezer and – most eyebrow-raisingly of all – Tidal all have 6% weekly penetration among this age group, according to Midia’s figures.

Interestingly, 12% of 16-19 year-olds say they are using social app, which may seem low given the buzz around its youthful audience. However, the point is that its core demographic may be even more youthful – its heartland is more early teens and even younger.

As for behaviour, 74% of these 16-19 year-olds say that they mainly listen to single tracks and playlists rather than albums – the latest challenge to the album as both a commercial and creative construct.

Mark Mulligan

The BPI and ERA’s event last night in London explored some of the trends, with BPI boss Geoff Taylor noting in his introduction that “Generation Z have had all their attitudes towards music formed by engaging with digital”.

Midia’s Mark Mulligan talked demographics. “We now need to stop thinking about millennials as one generation. It’s two generations – at least,” he said, before portraying as an app created by Gen Z developers for a Gen Z audience.

“ is probably the most Gen Z app the music industry has… They don’t create new behaviours – they catalyse new behaviours.”

Mulligan also said’s power is that it enables “digital peacocking” where users show off the best version of themselves to their friends and peers – while also fundamentally changing consumption with its emphasis on 15-second hooks from songs.

Mulligan criticised assumptions that teenagers can only cope with super-shortform content – “They don’t have short attention spans. They have very precise attention spans as they have so much content to process” – and returned to his past claim that “vloggers are the pop stars for Gen Z” thanks to their empathy (or at least perceived empathy) with their audience.

“Music used to have the exclusive on that, but it doesn’t any more,” he said of the implications of this shift. And just as with pop, the audience relationship is intense, but burns out quickly. “Kids grow out of YouTubers,” said Mulligan.

What about that startling Spotify finding from the Gen Z report? Mulligan said that he was initially so wary of the numbers that he re-researched, but came up with the same result: in the UK, Spotify’s weekly usage by 16-19 year-olds has now overtaken YouTube – as a music app, at least.

“That is a spectacular finding,” he said. “That is reinventing the brand as a youth brand. It [Spotify] has always been a youthful brand, but for people in their 20s and 30s. Spotify has reinvented itself, intentionally or unintentionally, as a teen-focused brand. These are the foundations for its long-term future there.”

A panel at the event provided some other perspectives, including from Deezer’s VP of communications Julia Herd, who talked about how that service’s grassroots grime initiative had appealed to younger music fans – while avoiding lazy or crass marketing.

We are looking at an audience that doesn’t buy into advertising – unless they control it. Authenticity is key. They are not homogenous so they want localised experiences,” said Herd, noting that around 80% of grime acts are unsigned, and so sit outside the traditional music-industry structure.

Deezer built tools to let these acts upload their music, with the aim of becoming a streaming ‘hub’ for grime. It also helped the artists put on shows and make videos – namely the very things both the acts and the audience wanted and needed.

“It worked incredibly well for us as a grassroots programme,” she argued. “The grime industry doesn’t like brands. They think they come in and try and badge things and it feels inauthentic. We are not trying to push brand messages down their throats.”

The days of having a star stand in front of a logo and hoping for the best are long gone, suggested Herd. “It looks like a paid promotion and is bullshit – so they [the audience] don’t like that.”

Panel discussion

Continuing the grime theme at the event, Lauren Pavan and Marisa Lee of GRM Daily offered an insight into how they worked with Netflix to link into the grime scene to help promote its The Get Down series.

“As a brand we don’t need to target Gen Z – we attract them,” suggested Pavan. “A lot of what we do is aligning ourselves with brands that feel authentic.”

As part of the Netflix promotion, GRM Daily offered aspiring rappers a chance to win a studio session with Ghetts and put out a track with him, all hinged around a particular hashtag – #TheGhettsDown.

The conversation ended with a discussion on what the music industry needs to do to recalibrate itself for these changes in audience habits.

“Artists are getting savvier about how they are launching their music,” proposed Herd. “Playlists will continue to play a role but that will decrease as other options out there become available.”

Jacqueline Eyewe, marketing manager at Atlantic Records, added that in an age of over-abundance, everyone has to think quicker and sharper.

“Your job as a label is to cut through the noise, make your campaign the most important and reach as many people as you can,” she said. “You can’t fake it. [The challenge is how] you connect with that audience without straight up selling them something? They are opinionated and they do know what they want.”

Tiffany Tasker, in charge of brand and business development at SuperAwesome, suggested that the high-production and glossy approach of the music industry in the past no longer flies with young fans today as it’s become a byword for the inauthentic.

They want “that low-quality and authentic feel” in videos they see form vloggers, grime acts and other YouTube stars. Tasker stressed that this is a demographic that you ignore or simplify at your peril.

They are not just talking rubbish. They are a sophisticated audience and have lots of good things to say here.”

Eamonn Forde

One response
  • Watkins says:

    Anything Mark M says is credible, but call me back when youve got or are ready to talk about the blend of paying young Spot users vs free users

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