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The Truth About Millennial TV Habits

Of all the misconceptions about millennials—that their attention spans are shorter than those of goldfish, that they’re intolerant of all advertising or that they’re incapable of brand loyalty—the confusion around their TV viewing habits, or supposed lack thereof, may be the most persistent.

Millennials are Watching TV
While it’s true that the explosion in new viewing options such as connected TV, streaming, video and mobile apps has changed the way millennials watch, it’s hyperbole to suggest—as many industry observers have—that millennials aren’t watching traditional television at all anymore. TV, in fact, remains the staple of millennials’ video consumption diets.

According to Nielsen’s inaugural Millennials on Millennials report, which tracks the evolving media habits of the demographic, traditional TV accounts for 66% percent of their total time viewing video. In terms of hours-per-day, Nielsen’s Q2 2017 numbers suggest it ranges from 1.6 for 18-to-24-year-olds and a little higher for those between 24 years and 34, which is about the same as what we noted in 2016. While those figures may be smaller than what older adults are allotting to traditional TV (traditional TV accounts for 89% of total time for the 35-and-over crowd, according to Nielsen), they’re large enough to suggest that traditional TV is still an important part of the marketing mix for advertisers focused on reaching millennials.

But They’re Doing It differently
That’s not to say that viewing habits aren’t shifting significantly. The decline in traditional TV viewership across all demographic groups is well established at this point and more marked among tech-savvy millennials who are quick to adopt the latest devices and services and are less enamored of “appointment viewing” than their older peers. Comfortable with a multi-platform approach to video viewing, millennials have earned reputations as “cord-cutters” and “cord-nevers” for their openness to eschewing the pay TV packages favored by their older peers, which has prompted concerns about the status of live TV among the younger cohort.

New research from Parks Associates shows that while on-demand sources are indeed claiming a large portion of video viewing, live TV is not dead to millennials at all. Study results show that among all viewers who watch live broadcasts on a TV, 17% of their live TV viewing is through a video-on-demand service with live content such as CBS All-Access, Univision Now or PlutoTV. What’s interesting, however, is that when considering millennials only, the percentage of online sources jumps to 30%.

In additional proof of the generational divide in viewing habits, recent data from Salesforce underscores the appeal of VOD and live streaming vs traditional broadcast to millennials. The company reports that while 72% of baby boomer/traditionalists watched traditional linear TV at its time of broadcast, only 42% of millennials and younger audiences did the same. And on the flip side, about two-thirds of millennials and younger watched a TV show or movie on a streaming platform vs just 23% for older cohorts. For advertisers focused on reaching millennials live, these online services potentially offer robust opportunities.

Multi-Platform Millennials Mean Multi-Screen Advertising Is in Order
Interestingly, the Nielsen report on millennials also found that when watching TV, millennials are the least likely of all demographic groups to change the channel during commercials. Though their eyes may be trained on their mobile screens or tablets, it underscores the point we made in 2016 (and busts another millennial myth) that millennials aren’t averse to advertising, but their attention needs to be earned. For advertisers, this not only means creating compelling content, but delivering it through all the channels this discovery-minded and platform-agnostic demographic group spend time on.

Clearly, millennials have a more fluid definition of what constitutes TV. But once marketers separate fact from fiction about millennials, they will get a clear view into the many opportunities to reach this powerful group through creative, multi-screen campaigns.