Are Young People Watching Less TV? (Updated – Q3 2015 Data)

Nielsen-Traditional-TV-Weekly-Viewing-Trends-Among-18-24-Q12011-Q32015-Dec2015The latest quarterly TV viewing figures from Nielsen are in, allowing for an analysis of almost 5 years’ worth of Americans’ traditional TV viewing data. The short of it? Yes, youth as a whole are watching less traditional TV. But the data in the Q3 2015 total audience report [download page] from Nielsen suggests that the declines may be slowing, and that traditional TV remains the primary video viewing mechanism for adults across age groups.

[Editor’s Note: MarketingCharts’ newest study – 2015 US Media Audience Demographics – is now available, offering a look at the composition (by age, income and race/ethnicity) of various media audiences, including broadcast TV, cable TV, and online TV viewing. Another MarketingCharts report, Advertising Channels With the Largest Purchase Influence on Consumers provides insights as to how TV ads rank as a stated purchase influencer among Millennials and other demographic groups.]

Before getting to the data and trends, a quick note on methodology. The below data in large part concerns “traditional TV” viewing, which averages out all live and DVR/time-shifted TV viewing (such as video-on-demand) during each quarter. As such, it is a measure of legacy TV viewing on set-top boxes, and does not include viewing via connected TV devices. While DVR and time-shifted TV viewing is growing, it still represents only a fraction of total “traditional TV” viewing. For example, among the total 18-24 population, weekly live TV viewing averaged 13 hours and 58 minutes per week in Q3 2015, while DVR and time-shifted TV viewing averaged 1 hour and 32 minutes per week.

Also, this edition of MarketingCharts’ quarterly TV viewing analysis includes new income and race/ethnicity data outlined in the latest Nielsen study, as well as research from another recent Nielsen study (the Comparable Metrics Report) that looks at audience sizes and consumption across various media channels.

Now, on to the data…

Nielsen’s most recent “Total Audience Report” indicates that Americans aged 18-24 watched a weekly average of 15-and-a-half hours of traditional TV during Q3 2015. That represents a year-over-year decline of a little more than 2 hours per week. In other words, 18-24-year-olds as a group went from watching about 2-and-a-half hours per day during the third quarter of 2014 to a little more than 2 hours and ten minutes per day during Q3 of this year.

Of note, however, this was the smallest year-over-year drop among the 18-24 population since Q1 2014, and is the third consecutive quarter where there has been a contraction in the year-over-year viewing decline. Could traditional TV viewing be reaching its nadir for this age group? Time will tell…

Nevertheless, between 2011 and 2015, Q3 traditional TV viewing by 18-24-year-olds dropped by almost 8-and-a-half hours per week, or by more than an hour and ten minutes per day. In percentage terms, Q3 traditional TV viewing by 18-24-year-olds was down by 11.8% year-over-year and has now fallen by 35% between 2011 and 2015. In other words, in the space of 4 years, more than one-third of this age group’s traditional TV viewing time has migrated to other activities or streaming (more on that below).

The interactive chart below offers a visual presentation of traditional TV consumption figures for each age bracket, showing how this type of TV viewing is trending down (sloping to the left) for younger demos, while remaining steady if not slightly increasing (sloping to the right) for the oldest group.

A couple of notes regarding the chart: a vertical line chart is used there because it better portrays the varying trends among age groups than a typical horizontal line chart. Also, the trends are exaggerated by making the horizontal axis range 15-55 hours per week rather than 0-55 hours per week.

Here’s what the data looks like as a horizontal line chart with no horizontal axis limits applied:

Nielsen-Traditional-TV-Viewing-by-Age-Q12011-Q32015-Dec2015

The above figures are averaged among the entire population, meaning that they include those Americans who don’t watch traditional TV. That number is more prevalent among youth: Nielsen’s recent inaugural “Comparable Metrics” report indicates, for example, that in Q2, TV’s weekly reach was just 76% among 18-34-year-olds, well below the 87% average for all adults.

The drop-off in viewing among 18-24-year-olds is a little less dramatic when looking just at persons in TV households (TV viewers). Among 18-24-year-old viewers, the Q3 2015 average of 82 hours and 56 minutes per month was down from 91 hours and 32 minutes per month during Q3 2014, representing a drop of more than 8-and-a-half hours per month. Again, though, this was a smaller decline than in Q2 (roughly 11 hours per month), and the per-day decline of around 17 minutes is a little smaller than the viewing drop among the 18-24 population overall (roughly 22 minutes per day).

What About Other Age Groups?

Of course, there are other age groups of interest when analyzing traditional TV viewing, including teens (a potential leading indicator) and older Millennials (aged 25-34), who might be more apt to watch traditional TV as they round into life stages such as parenthood and home ownership.

Looking at the latest Total Audience Report, the data indicates that:

  • Teens (12-17) watched 17 hours of traditional TV per week in Q3, an 11.5% drop year-over-year and a 30% contraction from 2011;
  • Older Millennials (25-34) watched 21 hours and 10 minutes per week in Q3, an 8.6% decrease year-over-year and a 23.8% drop from 2011;
  • Gen Xers (35-49) watched 28 hours and 41 minutes per week, a 3.4% decrease year-over-year (equating to 1 hour per week) and a 10.7% contraction from 2011;
  • Adults aged 50-64 watched 39 hours and 21 minutes per week, flat year-over-year (down only 2 minutes per week) and down just 2% from Q3 2011 (about three-quarters of an hour per week); and
  • Adults aged 65 and older watched 47 hours and 33 minutes per week, up 20 minutes per week from the previous year (<1%) and up about 5% from 2011.

Those results strongly show the age-related skew in traditional TV viewing, with declines easing off with each age bracket. To wit, the 65+ group has only recorded two quarters (in Q4 2014 and Q1 2015) of declines in traditional TV viewing in almost 5 years.

Overall, live TV consumption by adults averaged 4 hours and 7 minutes per day in Q3, down from 4 hours and 13 minutes per day during Q3 2014 and 4 hours and 27 minutes per day in Q3 2013. Clearly, those modest declines mask the larger drops among younger age groups.

How Does Traditional TV Measure Up With Other Video Media?

So yes, 18-24-year-olds are watching less traditional TV – likely due to increasing consumption of over-the-top video (more on that to come). And digital video time is “soaring” (trade speak for rising from a small base to a less-small figure). But according to the data presented by Nielsen, traditional TV is still clearly the dominant video consumption source. It’s also clear that measurement concerns persist, as the Comparable Metrics report notes the various video metrics included and not included in consumption counts. For example, smartphone and tablet video figures do not include content available through applications and the web where video is not the primary focus, such as Facebook. Even so, the methodology does include apps and sites where one might expect most long-form video consumption, such as Netflix and HBO GO… It’s worth keeping those disclosures in mind when looking at the following chart.

Nielsen-Video-Viewing-18-34-by-Device-in-Q2-Dec2015

Note that the above chart measures video consumption among users of each medium; those 18-34-year-olds who don’t watch video on their smartphones are not diluting the average.

The online-offline comparison is obviously up for debate as Nielsen itself is in the thick of a vibrant discussion about total audience measurement, and that’s why the focus of this article is on trends within a single viewing source (traditional TV). Nevertheless, the above chart begs the question of why the industry is abuzz over digital video and not traditional TV, even if the viewing trends favor the former? Perhaps these two charts from MarketingCharts’ just-released report, US Media Audience Demographics, offer a clue.

Here’s broadcast TV’s audience breakdown, by age:

Experian-Broadcast-TV-Viewers-by-Age-2015

And here’s the age breakdown of monthly online TV program viewers:

Experian-Monthly-Online-TV-Program-Viewers-by-Age-2015

(Note that these aren’t apples-to-apples comparisons, as they measure different base samples and viewing frequencies. They’re nonetheless illustrative of the demographic gap between TV audiences.)

Whether or not one agrees that Millennials are a more valuable demographic than, say, Baby Boomers (this chart has something to say about that), the online TV viewing audience is probably the choice for most marketers today, if all of the hullabaloo about Millennials is to be trusted.

(See the MarketingCharts report on media audience demographics for more data about the audience composition – age, household income and race/ethnicity – of broadcast, cable TV, and online video viewers, along with audience data for about a dozen other major online and offline media.)

Nielsen’s Comparable Metrics report, which offers a host of data on media reach and consumption, notes that overall media usage is steady among 18-34-year-olds, as increasing time spent with TV-connected devices, smartphones and tablets over the past year have more than offset declines in time spent with TV, radio and the PC.

The figures don’t support a shift in viewing time from traditional TV to mobile devices. But there are other devices, as shown in the chart above, that might be picking up the slack for Millennials: TV-connected devices. In Q2, TV viewers in the 18-34 bracket averaged just 4.5 days per week watching TV, compared to the 5.4 average among all adults. But 18-34-year-old users of TV-connected devices spent an average of 3.3 days per week with them, above the adult average of 2.9 days per week.

In this case, TV-connected devices refers to DVDs, game consoles, multimedia devices and VCRs (and includes time spent playing games on game consoles), so it’s difficult to ascertain to what extent this relates to streaming video via multimedia devices. Still, the latest Total Audience Report suggests that adults (in general) spend about as much time with game consoles as multimedia devices, indicating that probably somewhere around half of the 6 hours per week that 18-34-year-olds spend with TV-connected devices is spent with multimedia devices.

The following are some other takeaways from the Comparable Metrics report specific to the 18-34 bracket:

  • Radio reached the largest share (92.7%) of 18-34-year-olds during the average week in the May 4-31 period, while the smartphone (app + web) audience was larger than the TV audience (81.7% vs. 75.7%);
  • Weekly reach was higher for smartphone video (54.9%) than for PC video (32.5%) and tablet video (16.3%); although
  • Time spent by 18-34-year-olds on average was higher with PC video (113 minutes per week) than with smartphone video (30 minutes) and tablet video (15 minutes);
  • Among 18-34-year-old users of these various media, PC video (348 minutes per week) far outstripped tablet video (93 minutes) and smartphone video (55 minutes) in time spent; and
  • Almost half (48.6%) of 18-34-year-olds used TV-connected devices during the average week in Q2 2015, with users averaging about 12 hours a week with these devices.

What About Income and Race/Ethnicity?

The latest Total Audience Report, for Q3, analyzes media consumption and device ownership patterns by household income, with some interesting conclusions.

As one might expect, device adoption is greater among higher-income ($75k+) households than among lower-income households (<$25k), with this true for all devices measured:

  • DVD/Blu-Ray player (85% for the higher-income households versus 67% for the lowest-income households);
  • DVR (65% vs. 29%);
  • Enabled Smart TV (29% vs. 9%);
  • HD TV (98% vs. 83%);
  • Multimedia device (34% vs. 12%);
  • PC with internet (95% vs. 51%);
  • Any smartphone (92% vs. 64%);
  • Subscription video-on-demand (66% vs. 27%); and
  • Any tablet (74% vs. 34%).

As those results demonstrate, the penetration gaps are larger among newer technologies and services.

What’s more interesting, however, is what the examination of consumption among users found: in each case, lower-income media users spent more time with the specific medium than higher-income users. This again was true for all media measured:

  • Traditional TV: 211:14 monthly among the lowest-income users versus 113:41 among the higher-income users;
  • AM/FM radio: 75:28 versus 58:02;
  • DVD/Blu-Ray device: 16:00 versus 7:16;
  • Game console: 42:22 versus 17:58;
  • Multimedia device: 39:09 versus 18:25;
  • Internet on a PC: 51:29 versus 33:38;
  • App/web on a smartphone: 56:19 versus 44:43; and
  • App/web on a tablet: 29:18 versus 27:32.

Overall, TV accounts for a larger share of total media time for the lowest-income households than the highest, with this attributed to lower-income adults watching TV more throughout the day. When looking at time-of-day activity (not specific to users of each medium):

  • TV usage is highest among lower-income adults across the entire day, with the delta largest during the daytime and overnight;
  • Radio listening has the smallest difference between high- and low-income adults throughout the day;
  • TV-connected device usage is actually highest among the mid- and high-income adults during prime-time, but lower-income adults have the highest use outside of prime-time;
  • The lowest-income adults have the greatest usage of digital devices in the evening hours but the least usage until 5PM.

When sorting by race/ethnicity, consumption data in the Total Audience report reveals that:

  • African-American TV households continued to consume the most TV on a monthly basis in Q3, more than double the amount of time spent by Asian viewers, who spent the least amount of time watching TV (201:36 vs. 79:30);
  • Among Black American users of each medium, time spent with traditional TV and AM/FM radio was generally flat on a year-over-year basis, while time spent with game consoles, internet on a PC, video on a TV, app/web on a smartphone, and video on a smartphone all increased;
  • Live TV viewing was down by about 8 hours per month among Hispanic viewers, while digital media consumption was up on all devices among Hispanic users;
  • Among Asian-American users, time spent with PC internet, video on PC and app/web on a smartphone all decreased (as did live TV), but multimedia devices users spent more time with those devices, as did game console users; and
  • Among users, African Americans spent the most time with game consoles, while Asian-Americans spent the most time with multimedia devices and Hispanics with smartphones apps and web.

Meanwhile, looking at device adoption among households with income of at least $50k, the study finds that:

  • DVD/Blu-Ray Player and DVR penetration are higher among Blacks and Hispanics than among Asian-Americans;
  • Hispanics (34%) and Asian-Americans (34%) have higher rates of enabled smart TV penetration than African-Americans (26%);
  • Half of Asian households (with income of at least $50k) own a multimedia device, far outstripping Hispanics (32%) and Blacks (28%); and
  • Subscription video-on-demand and tablet penetration are highest among Asian households ($50k+) than among Hispanic and Black households.

Note: it’s true these figures come only from one source, Nielsen, and other research may disagree as to these figures. With respect to traditional TV, however, what’s more pertinent than the precise number is the direction of that figure, and the consistency afforded by these quarterly reports allows for a thorough examination of those trends.

For more details on Nielsen’s methodology, access the latest reports here:

The MarketingCharts report on media audience demographics – which not only sizes the audience by demographic but also shows the breakdown of audiences in a way not portrayed by Nielsen (e.g. 48.4% of the monthly online TV program viewing audience is aged 18-34) – is available for purchase here.