It’s no secret that millennial viewing habits are different to those of Gen X, Gen Y, and baby boomer viewers. But the pace at which the gap is widening -  especially between teenagers and baby boomers - is catching some in the broadcasting industry by surprise.


“There are big differences between age groups, and these gaps are widening… Between 2015 and 2016, average daily viewing among children and 16-24 year olds each fell by 10 minutes, whereas viewing by over-64s increased by 2 minutes.”

PSB Annual Research Report for 2017 - Ofcom

Traditional TV viewership continues to fall among every major demographic under the age of 65; but, despite the rise of streaming and mobile-first content viewing, TV is far from dead. In fact, 80 percent of all viewing remains through traditional TV.

Just as if the car was invented today, it would be 100 percent electric, if TV was invented today, it would be entirely optimised for mobile-viewing.

The problem is that broadcasters cannot simply squeeze traditional TV content into a phone and repurpose it for millennials. TV for millennials needs to appeal to their sense of individualism.

And this needs to be achieved while also retaining the existing TV-watching and streaming audiences. Clearly, then, this is a period of major transition for broadcasters.

To navigate this period, it helps to understand the main challenges in growing younger audiences while also retaining traditional viewers – and to consider the available solutions. 


From millennials to baby boomers: the challenge of different viewing habits

The key differences between the different viewer sectors are already well-known in the main, so it suffices to summarise these below:

The ‘mobile’ generation

  • Not willing to pay
  • Impatient (for access and rules)
  • Willing to accept lower quality
  • High use of YouTube to watch snippets of film edited by other users
  • Social watching e.g. short clips on Facebook
  • Enjoy user-generated content (UGC) – including from YouTube celebrities

Streaming’ viewers

  • Less willing to pay large sums and be locked into contracts
  • Happy not ‘owning’ content (a change in perception of what’s important)
  • High use of Video on Demand (VoD) and streaming
  • More savvy about content sources
  • High expectations for access
  • Mainly watch at home on iPad or laptop

‘Traditional’ viewers

  • Own physical media 
  • Still consume most content in the traditional way
  • Watch content as scheduled
  • Use their mobile to read (news, etc.)
  • Expectation of editorial content

With all these stark differences, it’s not surprising that there the challenges are mounting up for broadcasters.

The total time spent with all media is increasing every year, but the how, where, and when is all changing: for one distinct group, it’s all about mobile and short-form UGC; for another it’s streaming and VoD on laptops or iPads; and for the third type it’s traditional schedules and TV. 


“Consumers aged 16-34 spend almost 2.5 hours more each week watching streamed on-demand UGC, compared to 35-69 year olds. At the same time, they spend almost four hours less than the older population when it comes to watching live and linear broadcast content.”

Ericsson: TV and Media 2016

Broadcasters have an opportunity to tap into a rich vein of millennial viewing – if they get their services right.

We’ve already seen that younger audiences don’t want what their parents have got. It’s entirely conceivable that when they move out of their parents’ house, they won’t even own a TV.

There is an average global increase of 4 hours a week viewing on mobile devices currently – and growing. Gen Z viewers are driving this; they want something that their parents or older siblings don’t use.

This requires the opposite of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach from broadcasters. It is no longer acceptable to dictate schedules to these viewers; they will decide when, where, and how they watch the available content.

These viewers want flexibility of access, and short-form content that is instantly available; low-quality mobile journalism means more to them than high-quality branded TV.

So how do you attract these youngsters to your services? This is potentially your future audience -  but only if you manage to get them to ‘buy in’ to what you’re offering.


The rise of the individual

If one trend sums up the challenge facing broadcasters it’s this: the rise of the individual.

Everywhere we look, people want a more personalised service: whether it’s being greeted by your first name when you log into the App Store or a cashier in Marks & Spencer saying ‘Happy Birthday’ to you when you present your loyalty card.

Broadcasters must recognise that viewers are also paying customers crying out for this same level of personalisation. It is driven by millennial and Gen Z viewers but these changing expectations are filtering through to all viewers and are rapidly becoming the norm.

The key challenge for broadcasters, then, is to accurately determine which of the three viewing ‘camps’ an individual is in – and to provide the most appropriate service to accommodate this.

But how do you gain this understanding of individual viewing habits? It must involve a process of information-gathering that presents a whole new set of challenges: the younger generation may provide data more freely (as they’re comfortable with this new reality) but those from Gen X upwards may recoil in horror at the thought of providing personal info to a media company.

Each of the generations also has a different definition of value in return for this data. Broadcasters will need to recognise this and be prepared to offer services that can adapt to individual demands.

Rather than focusing on creating content for all ‘target audiences’ (which becomes almost impossible to cater for) broadcasters should simply focus on what they’re best at: making the best possible content full stop. The end user (or in most cases an ‘agent’) can then choose the parts of that content they want or need – a process that becomes automatic and delivers the tailored, personalised service that the viewer craves.

In this way, if a young viewer just wants the punch lines from a stand-up comedy show, they just get that. If they want the whole show they can get that too.

And the technology to do this is available right now.

We’ll leave it there for now. Hopefully this has given you a good general overview of the main challenges created by the widening viewing gap – and what’s needed to overcome them.

Some of the points we’ve covered above will be discussed in more detail in future posts – so stay tuned!

Millennials Broadcast