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[By MC Editor, JC Lupis] Let’s do this again. A quarter-year has passed since our last look at traditional TV viewing, so it’s time to explore findings from the latest quarterly Total Audience report [download page] from Nielsen, this time covering data from Q3 2018.

A quick note before we start: because Nielsen did not publicly issue the Q3 or Q4 2017 reports, we recently moved to this new article format. You can visit this article to get that earlier, comprehensive, 6-and-a-half year analysis spanning from Q1 2011 through Q2 2017. You can also purchase our even deeper analysis here in the form of a presentation that goes into more detail on TV trends (Q1 2012-Q1 2017) and derives a host of insights from the data.

The bigger note is that Nielsen changed its methodology beginning with the Q1 2018 report after that 6-month absence, and is cautioning that comparisons should not be made with reports earlier than Q1 2018. As such, we will not be able to provide the running 5-year comparison charts that we have for several quarters now. (We will provide some past figures but in the context of these not necessarily being apples-to-apples.) Luckily, Nielsen’s latest report does have some year-over-year data in it, so we can take a look at that.

In any case this ensuing analysis will be more succinct than usual… For now, let’s dive in to what we can.

What Are the Latest Viewing Trends Among Youth?

Nielsen’s most recent report indicates that Americans aged 18-34 watched a daily average of 1 hour and 51 minutes of traditional TV during Q3 2018. What does that mean?

This is the first quarter on record in which youths’ traditional TV viewing (live + time-shifted TV) has dropped below 2 hours per day.

While that overall figure isn’t broken down by narrower age group, it’s safe to assume that older Millennials (25-34) are watching more than their younger counterparts. (The last time we ran this analysis with this age group broken down, covering Q2 2017, 18-24-year-olds were watching less than their older counterparts. It’s highly unlikely that pattern has changed since then…)

In terms of a year-over-year change, Q3’s figure represents a decline of 23 minutes per day, according to a review of the figures provided by Nielsen.

In percentage terms, the amount of time 18-34-year-olds as a whole spent watching traditional TV (live and time-shifted) in Q3 2018 dropped by about 17.2% from the previous year. Needless to say, that’s a huge chunk – a drop of about 1 in every 6 minutes in just a single year.

To give some context to the extent to which digital has supplanted traditional TV for youth, this latest report indicates that 18-34-year-olds spent one hour more per day in Q3 2018 using apps and the web on smartphones alone than watching traditional TV.

A quick note: the above data is averaged among the 18-34 population as a whole, meaning that it includes those (many) youth who don’t watch traditional TV. How many? Traditional TV reached just 73% of 18-34-year-olds during the third quarter (compared to 86% of the adult population).

In Q3 2018 traditional TV users ages 18-34 (those 73%) spent about 2 hours and 11 minutes per day watching traditional TV. Unfortunately, year-over-year comparisons aren’t available for media users, so we can’t determine the extent to which that figure has declined. We’ll begin those comparisons again with the Q1 2019 report’s release.

What About Other Age Groups?

Traditional TV tends to have an older audience composition than other platforms – and has been slowly trending that way for some time. (Further analysis of that shift in this report.)

So the behaviors of Gen Xers (who could be expected to watch more at this life stage) and Boomers (now a core audience) are also very much worth analyzing. Teens are also worth a look as potential leading indicators of future viewing patterns.

Age Group: 12-17

The latest study indicates that as a whole, teens watched about 9 hours and 55 minutes of traditional TV per week, or less than 1-and-a-half hours per day.

If you’re keeping count, that means that teens (12-17) are watching even less traditional TV than 18-34-year-olds, although we don’t know how they compare to the narrower 18-24 bracket.

Nonetheless, the relatively small amount of traditional TV that this group is watching does not bode well for the pay-TV industry…

Although it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison given the change in methodology, it’s worth noting that the Q3 2013 Nielsen report has teens watching 21 hours and 44 minutes per week, or more than 3 hours of traditional TV per day. In other words, while this may be not a completely accurate conclusion, it seems as though teens’ traditional TV viewing has been cut in half (or more) in just 5 years.

Age Group: 35-49

In Q3 2018 35-49-year-olds watched 3 hours and 34 minutes of traditional TV per day, which is a good 1 hour and 40 minutes more per day than the younger 18-34 demographic.

Compared to the year-earlier period, traditional TV viewing among 35-49-year-olds declined by 14 minutes per day.

In percentage terms, traditional TV viewing among 35-49-year-olds fell by 6.1% year-over-year. That’s certainly not as extensive a decline as seen among the 18-34 demographic, but still a rather healthy one.

Looking further back, the Q3 2013 Nielsen report has the 35-49 bracket watching 4 hours and 24 minutes per day… That would imply a drop of close to 1 hour per day, but in percentage terms nothing approaching the drastic change among youth.

There is a big milestone to make note of with this group, though. In Q3 2018 35-49-year-olds spent more time with the internet on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets combined – 3 hours and 44 minutes per day) than they did watching traditional TV.

Age Group: 50-64

Overall, 50-64-year-olds watched a hefty 5 hours and 29 minutes per day during Q3 2018.

Compared to the year-earlier period, traditional TV viewing among 50-64-year-olds declined by just 8 minutes per day. Obviously, the industry is holding onto this demographic a lot more successfully…

In percentage terms, traditional TV viewing among 50-64-year-olds declined by a relatively small 2.4% year-over-year.

Looking further back, the Q3 2013 Nielsen report had this bracket watching 5 hours and 46 minutes per day at that time. So even if these were comparable reports, the decline would be fairly minor…

Age Group: 65+

During Q3 2018, the 65+ demographic watched an impressive (if you’d like to call it that) 6 hours and 51 minutes of traditional TV per day.

Compared to the year-earlier period, traditional TV viewing in the 65+ group was down by just 1 minute per day. Once again, the industry is holding onto this demographic a lot more successfully than younger Americans, another measure of how traditional TV’s audience is trending older over time.

Still, this is the first time in a long time that we have reported a drop (even if of just 1 minute per day) in traditional TV viewing among the 65+ group.

Nonetheless, looking further back and were the Q3 2013 report to be an accurate comparison, the amount of time spent watching traditional TV by the 65+ age group would actually have increased a little (from 6 hours and 40 minutes per day).

Traditional TV vs. TV-Connected Devices

The latest report from Nielsen provides a look at how much time people are spending daily with TV-connected devices, defined as DVD/Blu-Ray Devices, Game Consoles, and Internet-Connected Devices (including streaming media players and smart TVs).

As a result, we can compare the time spent with TV-connected devices to the time spent watching traditional TV (h:mm) for each age group. This data is averaged among the entire population by segment, rather than device users. Here we go:

  • (18-34) TV-Connected Devices: 1:13 per day. Traditional TV: 1:51
  • (35-49) TV-Connected Devices: 0:53 per day. Traditional TV: 3:34
  • (50-64) TV-Connected Devices: 0:32 per day. Traditional TV: 5:29
  • (65+) TV-Connected Devices: 0:21 per day. Traditional TV: 6:51

As the data indicates, there are huge differences by age group in terms of viewing behavior, with traditional TV time far greater among older audiences and connected TV time (while still trailing traditional TV) much higher among younger groups.

Here’s the data in chart format:

Comparing Races/Ethnicities

While the focus of this article is on age groups, let’s take a moment to compare the behaviors of African-Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian-Americans, per the report’s data. Because they’re quite different…

Take for example, traditional TV, which averaged in Q3 2018 (hh:mm):

  • 5:31 per day of live TV among Black adults, with an additional 30 minutes of time-shifted TV;
  • 2:45 per day of live TV among Hispanic adults, with an additional 17 minutes of time-shifted TV; and
  • 1:51 per day of live TV among Asian-American adults, with an additional 14 minutes of time-shifted TV.

As such, African-American adults watch about 3 times more traditional TV per day than Asian-American adults, and twice as much as Hispanic adults.

In case you’re wondering how much of that is attributable to reach (with these figures being averaged among the entire population), traditional TV’s reach averaged 89% among Black adults, 86% among Hispanic adults and 70% among Asian-American adults in Q3.

So some part of the discrepancy is due to Asian-Americans being less likely to watch traditional TV, but even Asian-American viewers are watching much less than African-Americans.

How Much Time Does Everyone Spend With Video?

OK, a couple more ways to look at video viewing behavior before we wrap this up. The Nielsen report also totals up the time spent with video per day, which includes traditional TV, TV-connected devices, video on a computer, video on smartphones and video on tablets. (The last two are limited to video-focused apps/web, such as HBO GO, as opposed to time spent watching video on Facebook, which is excluded.)

The grand total? A sizable 5 hours and 24 minutes per day spent consuming video content by the average adult.

That’s plenty of video time, on par with the Q2 figure, but down 3 minutes from the previous year.

More to come with the next report’s release.

[A quick note on methodology. The above 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.]

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