Are Young People Watching Less TV? (Updated – Q1 2014 Data)

by MarketingCharts staff

Nielsen’s most recent study indicates that Americans aged 18-24 watched a weekly average of a little less than 22 hours of traditional TV during Q1 2014. That was a 95-minute drop-off from Q1 2013, which in turn had been down by 80 minutes from the year before.

In fact, in the space of 3 years, Q1 TV viewing by 18-24-year-olds dropped by a little more than 4-and-a-half hours per week. That’s a substantial amount, equivalent to roughly 40 minutes per day.

In percentage terms, traditional TV viewing among 18-24-year-olds in Q1 2014 was down by almost 7% year-over-year. Between Q1 2011 and Q1 2014, weekly viewing fell by almost 18%, a sizable figure.

Although that 18% figure is a composite figure over 3 years, there’s no denying a steady decline in TV viewing by 18-24-year-olds; the weekly average has now dropped on a year-over-year basis for at least 9 consecutive quarters. Here’s what that decline looks like:

  • Q1 2014 vs. Q1 2013: 14 minutes less per day
  • Q4 2013 vs. Q4 2012: 7 minutes less per day
  • Q3 2013 vs. Q3 2012: 2 minutes less per day
  • Q2 2013 vs. Q2 2012: 9 minutes less per day
  • Q1 2013 vs. Q1 2012: 11 minutes less per day
  • Q4 2012 vs. Q4 2011: 20 minutes less per day
  • Q3 2012 vs. Q3 2011: 17 minutes less per day
  • Q2 2012 vs. Q2 2011: 15 minutes less per day
  • Q1 2012 vs. Q1 2011: 13 minutes less per day

The immediate trend that jumps out of those figures is that the declines in TV viewing for the 18-24 demo appear to be speeding up again after slowing through most of last year. Those decreases in viewing might reflect increasing consumption of over-the-top video, although it should be noted that the Nielsen data indicates that time spent watching traditional TV still exceeds online and smartphone video by a considerable margin, even among youth. Indeed, research suggests that online video tends to act as a complement rather than a replacement for traditional TV.

Another interesting point of note is that viewership among 18-24-year-olds tends to have dropped off the most during the first and fourth quarters of the year, when consumption has historically been highest (see the above chart – click to enlarge).

Consumption trends are mixed for older age groups: TV viewing among 25-34-year-olds declined again in Q1, also for the 9th consecutive quarter. But consumption was steady among 35-49-year-olds, arresting a multi-quarter decline, while increasing among those aged 50 and older. (For more on TV’s reach and advertising influence on Baby Boomers, see MarketingCharts’ new Debrief, Advertising to Baby Boomers: The Why and How” [download page].)


The interactive chart below offers a visual presentation of the data contained in the data table above, showing how TV viewing is trending down (sloping to the left) for younger demos, while gradually increasing (sloping to the right) during the past year or so for the oldest groups.

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 data range 20-55 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 data limits applied: the consumption decline is somewhat less pronounced.


The above figures are averaged among the entire population, meaning that they include those few Americans who don’t watch TV (more prevalent among youth). But the drop-off among 18-24-year-olds is consistent even when looking just at persons in TV households (TV viewers): these viewers watched about 5 minutes less TV per day during Q1 2014 than during Q1 2013 (111 hours and 15 minutes versus 113 hours and 59 minutes). That decline comes after 2 consecutive quarters in which 18-24-year-olds viewers had actually watched more TV than in the prior year.

Here’s what the trends look like among 18-24-year-old viewers:

  • Q1 2014 vs. Q1 2013: 5 minutes less per day
  • Q4 2013 vs. Q4 2012: 4 minutes more per day
  • Q3 2013 vs. Q3 2012: 3 minutes more per day
  • Q2 2013 vs. Q2 2012: 4 minutes less per day
  • Q1 2013 vs. Q1 2012: 7.5 minutes less per day
  • Q4 2012 vs. Q4 2011: 19 minutes less per day
  • Q3 2012 vs. Q3 2011: 15 minutes less per day

Between Q1 2011 and Q1 2014, traditional TV consumption by 18-24-year-old viewers dropped by a little less than 10%.

The difference in declines between the viewing population and the 18-24 population as a whole suggests the growing presence of “cord-nevers” – people who have never subscribed to a pay-TV service and are instead getting all their programming options from OTT services. It also means that TV is maintaining a grip on its young viewers for the time being.

Looking at other age groups, 25-34-year-old viewers watched close to 2 hours less per month during Q1 2014 than during Q1 2013 (compared to more than 5 hours less in Q4 2012, roughly 4 hours less in Q3, 2 hours and 40 minutes less in Q2, 3 hours less in Q1, 30 minutes less in Q4 2012, and 40 minutes less in Q3 2012). The 35-49 demo posted a slight decline, watching only about 15 minutes less per month during Q1 2014, after dropping more than 4 hours per month in Q4. Consumption among 50-64-year-old viewers grew by more than 1-and-a-half hours by about 2-and-a-half-hours, while it increased by about 6-and-a-half-hours among the 65+ crowd.

Those results reverse earlier trends: when looking at actual TV viewers, the trend looks negative for the 18-24 group, but better for most other age groups. These figures will be worth keeping an eye on in future data releases.

One other thing to note: while composite amount of viewing among the entire 2+ population has remained steady (up by 20 minutes a week year-over-year in Q1), total consumption figures are being propped up by older audiences, who comprise a large proportion of TV viewers.

What About Teens?

Teens are often used as a barometer of things to come (just Google “Facebook” and “teens” for an example – or run a search on this publication…). So how is this potential leading indicator faring in terms of TV viewership?

In Q1, 12-17-year-olds watched an average of 21 hours and 12 minutes of traditional TV per week, representing only a 10-minute year-over-year decline. That was significantly less than the declines seen throughout 2013.

Looking at year-over-year patterns, teen consumption of TV decreased:

  • by 10 minutes per week in Q1 2014;
  • by 47 minutes per week in Q4 2013;
  • by 49 minutes in Q3 2013;
  • by 58 minutes in Q2 2013;
  • by 52 minutes in Q1 2013;
  • by 46 minutes in Q4 2012;
  • by 98 minutes in Q3 2012;
  • by 47 minutes in Q2 2012; and
  • by 127 minutes in Q1 2012.

The interesting takeaway from there is that while consumption decreases expanded among the 18-24 group in Q1, the opposite was true for teens. Moreover, among 12-17-year-olds in TV households, consumption was down by only about 1-and-a-half hours per month, compared to a 4-and-a-half hour drop in Q4 and a 3-hour decline in Q3.

What that portends is up for debate. One could argue that the data demonstrates that people tend to watch more TV as they get older – and that such a trend will hold true for youth as they age. Alternatively, the trends indicate that while viewing remains strong among older age groups, it’s tailing off with younger audiences. Particularly with the emergence of alternative viewing methods, one might expect that consumption decreases will continue among this age group.

Other Findings:

  • Looking at ethnicity and race, African-Americans viewers continued to consume the most TV on a monthly basis in Q1, more than double the amount of time spent by Asians, who spent the least amount of time watching TV (222:41 vs. 92:55).
  • On a year-over-year basis, African-American TV households increased their traditional TV viewing by more than 6 hours per month. Hispanic viewers watched almost 4 hours less per month, while Asian Americans’ consumption was relatively flat.
  • Overall time spent watching TV in TV households was 159 hours and 7 minutes per month, up by about 90 minutes from the year-earlier period.
  • Among the total 2+ population (not just TV households), TV consumption increased by about 20 minutes per week to 34 hours and 31 minutes (almost 5 hours per day). That may have been related to an increase in viewers, from 282.9 million to 285.4 million.
  • The average adult spent 5 hours and 10 minutes per day watching live TV during Q1 2014, down only 1 minute from the previous year. Time spent watching time-shifted TV (at 34 minutes per day) was up by 5 minutes.

Note: it’s true these figures come only from one source, Nielsen, and other research may disagree as to the exact amount of time being spent in front of the TV. What’s more pertinent than an exact number in this case, though, is the direction of that figure, and the consistency afforded by these quarterly reports allows for a thorough examination of those trends.