[By MC Editor, JC Lupis] The latest quarterly TV viewing figures from Nielsen were recently released, and we now have 6 years’ worth of data on Americans’ traditional TV viewing habits to examine. If you’ve been keeping track of these quarterly updates, you’re well aware that youth as a whole are watching less traditional TV. So what might be new in this latest study [download page], covering Q4 2016? Let’s take a look.
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 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 14 hours and 3 minutes per week in Q4 2016, while DVR and time-shifted TV viewing averaged 1 hour and 33 minutes per week.
Also, below the analyses of viewing trends, this article contains:
Now, on to the data…
Nielsen’s most recent “Total Audience Report” indicates that Americans aged 18-24 watched a weekly average of 15 hours and 36 minutes of traditional TV during Q4 2016. What does that mean? It’s about 2-and-a-quarter hours per day of traditional TV for this young group.
In terms of a year-over-year change, Q4’s figure represents a decline of 1 hour and 11 minutes per week. In other words, 18-24-year-olds as a group went from watching about 2 hours and 24 minutes per day during the fourth quarter of 2015 to about 2 hours and 14 minutes per day during Q4 of 2016. (That’s not a drastic change, but as we’ll see, these declines are compounding over time.)
The year-over-year decline in traditional TV viewing among the 18-24 population was about the same as observed in Q3 (2 minutes more per week, to be specific). So it’s the second-smallest decline in the past 3 years, by a tiny margin. Of course, while the declines may not be rapidly accelerating, they’re still occurring.
In sum, between 2011 and 2016, Q4 traditional TV viewing by 18-24-year-olds dropped by almost 10 hours a week, or by roughly 1 hour and 25 minutes per day. In percentage terms, Q4 traditional TV viewing by 18-24-year-olds was down by 7.1% year-over-year and has now fallen by 39% since 2011. In other words, in the space of 5 years, almost 40% of this age group’s traditional TV viewing time has migrated to other activities or streaming (more on that to come).
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 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 10-55 hours per week rather than 0-55 hours per week.
Here’s what the data looks like as a horizontal line chart with no vertical axis limits applied:
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 “Comparable Metrics” report indicates, for example, that in Q3 2016, TV’s weekly reach was just 76% among 18-34-year-olds, well below the 87% average for all adults.
Interestingly, the drop-off in viewing among 18-24-year-olds is larger when looking just at persons in TV households (TV viewers). Among 18-24-year-old viewers, the Q4 2016 average of 77 hours and 48 minutes per month was down from 87 hours and 10 minutes per month during Q4 2015, representing a drop of almost 10 hours per month. That puts the per-day decline among 18-24-year-old viewers at close to 20 minutes, larger than the viewing drop among the 18-24 population overall (about 11 minutes per day). This indicates that viewing losses are not the result just of cord-cutting or a growing cord-never population: 18-24-year-old viewers are also watching less traditional TV.
What’s the upshot of all these declines? Millennials (18-34 in this case) as a whole spend more time accessing apps and the web on smartphones than they do watching traditional TV.
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. (More on that coming.)
Looking at the latest Total Audience Report, the data indicates that:
Of note is that TV viewing growth was slightly weaker in Q4 than in Q3 for the oldest age groups, who are the mainstays of traditional TV.
Still, what a difference 5 years makes! If you’re looking for one chart that says it all (the TL:DR version), here it is:
Those results demonstrate the age-related skew in traditional TV viewing, with declines easing off with each age bracket and turning into viewing increases among the oldest age groups. To wit, the 65+ group has only recorded two quarters (in Q4 2014 and Q1 2015) of declines in traditional TV viewing over the past 24 quarters of analysis.
Looking at the overall picture, live TV consumption by adults averaged 4 hours and 23 minutes per day in Q4, down 4 minutes from Q4 2015 after dropping another 4 minutes minutes per day between 2015 and 2014. Clearly, those modest declines mask the larger drops among younger age groups.
So yes, 18-24-year-olds are continuing to watch less traditional TV with each passing quarter, likely due in part to increasing consumption of digital video and more time spent with their smartphones.
It’s worth remembering that Q1 2016 marked the first time that streaming video services were in 50% of US TV households. That was up 8% points from just a year earlier. By contrast, DVR penetration had remained flat at 49-50% for the prior 6 quarters. (More adults in TV households now have access to Netflix than to DVRs, another milestone.)
With that in mind, reports have been out suggesting that streaming video has supplanted linear TV as the dominant form of video consumption among youth:
What does Nielsen data have to say about streaming versus traditional TV? According to the data presented by Nielsen, traditional TV is still the single largest video consumption source. It’s also clear that measurement concerns persist, as its 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.
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. Were one to average these figures out among the total population (bearing in mind that this would dilute viewing time for digital devices such as tablets to a greater extent than traditional TV), the gap would be greater.
This data seems to lend support to the notion that digital video is complementing more than replacing traditional TV, as total video hours continue to grow. The alternative view is, of course, that if almost 40% of youths’ traditional TV viewing has migrated to other activities, the most likely destination is streaming video. (And research does suggest that streaming is at least partly to blame for Millennials’ decisions to forego pay-TV.)
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 prevailing focus of this article is on trends within a single viewing source (traditional TV). Nevertheless, the above charts offer some insights as to why the industry is abuzz over digital video and not traditional TV. The following two charts from MarketingCharts’ latest report, US Media Audience Demographics, offer another reason.
Here’s broadcast TV’s audience breakdown, by age:
And here’s the age breakdown of monthly online TV program viewers:
(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 (these financial stats might suggest otherwise), 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 Q3 2016 Comparable Metrics report (the latest available as of publication) doesn’t show a huge shift in viewing time from traditional TV to mobile devices (note that smartphone video overtook tablet video for the first time among users). But there are other devices, as shown in the earlier chart above, that might be picking up the slack for Millennials: TV-connected devices. In Q3, TV viewers in the 18-34 bracket watched TV on average during just 4.6 days per week, about one day less than the 5.5 average among all adults. But 18-34-year-old users of TV-connected devices spent an average of 4.1 days per week with them, above the adult average of 3.6 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 indicates that adults (in general) spend more than twice as much time with multimedia devices as they do with gaming consoles, suggesting that a large portion of the more than 11 hours per week that 18-34-year-old users spend with TV-connected devices is spent watching video.
The following are some other takeaways from the Comparable Metrics report specific to the 18-34 bracket:
An argument can be made that youths’ media habits will change as they grow older and progress through life changes such as starting a family and owning a home. Twin pieces of research released by TDG back in 2013 illustrated this potential phenomenon. The first survey showed that few 18-24-year-olds living with their parents were “highly inclined” to get pay-TV once they struck out on their own, with 1 in 4 saying they were “highly disinclined” to do so. But, in a separate survey of 18-24-year-old broadband users who had moved into a non-college residence, TDG found only about 1 in 10 saying they had never signed up for a cable or satellite service after moving out on their own for the first time.
Nielsen’s Q4 2015 Total Audience Report took a deeper look at the impact of life stages on Millennials’ media habits, segmenting 18-34-year-olds into three distinct groups: “dependent adults” (living in someone else’s home, mostly their parents’); “on their own” (living in their own home without children); and “starting a family” (living in their own home with children).
Nielsen’s data showed that virtually all (97% of) 18-year-olds live in someone else’s home (or presumably in a dorm), while almost 90% of 34-year-olds live in their own home, about 3 in 5 with kids. (If nothing else, this is a solid argument for not treating Millennials as a homogenous group…)
Comparing the technology ownership of these groups yielded some interesting results:
From those results, one could surmise that as Millennials get their own place, at least some drop DVRs and DVDs in favor of multimedia devices and SVOD services, while the opposite trend occurs when they have kids. However, it’s worth remembering that this data measures different segments of 18-34-year-olds, and doesn’t look at the same group as they grow older. It’s entirely possible that the Millennials examined who have kids are composed more of older Millennials who are simply more akin to Gen Xers in their media habits than the younger Millennials who don’t have children.
Nevertheless, a similar pattern emerges when looking at pay-TV penetration (measured as service from an MVPD – wired cable, DBS or telco): use of these services was highest (88%) among dependent adults, falling to the lowest point among those who are on their own (72%), but then higher again among those who are starting a family (79%).
The presence of children seems to have some impact on pay-TV penetration, as across all Millennial age brackets (18-24, 25-29, 30-34) penetration was higher among those living in their own with children than those living in their own home without children. Again, age may be a greater factor than the presence of children, as it’s difficult to separate these disparate factors.
The pattern, though, translates into live TV consumption also. Looking at 18-34-year-olds’ weekly TV screen usage during Q4, Nielsen finds that live TV viewing averaged:
Meanwhile, time spent with TV-connected devices was highest among those living on their own without kids (1 hour and 32 minutes per day), and lowest among those living in someone else’s home (1 hour and 11 minutes per day). And in examining the TV versus TV-connected device mix, 53% of Millennials “on their own” use such a device on any given day that they use a TV set, compared to only about 4 in 10 from the other groups.
Overall, the “starting a family” group most closely resembles the “dependent adults” segment in its viewing. This suggests (but certainly doesn’t confirm) that as Millennials have kids, they fall into similar patterns as they had when they were living with their parents.
When sorting by race/ethnicity, consumption data in the most recent Nielsen reports reveal that:
The Total Audience Report for Q3 2015 analyzed media consumption and device ownership patterns by household income, with some interesting conclusions highlighted below.
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:
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:
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):
Meanwhile, looking at device adoption among households with income of at least $50k, the study finds that:
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. 29.4% of the monthly online TV program viewing audience is aged 25-34) – is available for purchase here.
Topics: African-American, Alternative Connected Devices, Asian-American, Boomers & Older, Cable, Connected Device Comparisons, Hispanic, Household Income, Media & Entertainment, Mobile Phone, Most Popular Recent Charts/Stories, Network, Radio, Tablet, Teens & Younger, Television, Traditional, TV Audiences & Consumption, Video, Youth & Gen X
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