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jclupis | Marketing Charts | Tue, 29 Sep 2015 12:35:32 +0000

Nielsen-Traditional-TV-Weekly-Viewing-Trends-Among-18-24-Q12011-Q22015-Sept2015The latest quarterly TV viewing figures are in, and with 4-and-a-half years’ worth of data to examine, it’s possible to see real trends emerging in Americans’ traditional TV viewing habits. The short of it? Yes, youth as a whole are watching less traditional TV, to the extent that this article may soon need to be renamed “How much less TV are youth watching?” Indeed, as the data in the Q2 2015 total audience report [download page] from Nielsen attests, the drop-off in viewing by the 18-24 demo isn’t showing much sign of abating.

[Editor’s Note: For a look at how TV ads rank as a stated purchase influencer among Millennials – and other demographic groups – see MarketingCharts’ latest report, Advertising Channels With the Largest Purchase Influence on Consumers. The results are surprising!]

Before getting to the data and trends, a quick note on methodology. The below data 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 14 hours and 55 minutes per week in Q2 2015, while DVR and time-shifted TV viewing averaged 1 hour and 31 minutes per week.

Now, on to the data…

Nielsen’s most recent study indicates that Americans aged 18-24 watched a weekly average of almost 16-and-a-half hours of traditional TV during Q2 2015. That represents a substantial year-over-year decline of 2 hours and 35 minutes per week. In other words, 18-24-year-olds as a group went from watching about 2-and-three-quarter-hours per day during the second quarter of 2014 to a little more than 2 hours and twenty minutes per day during Q2 of this year. That sitcom they watched last year on TV? They probably streamed it this year.

In fact, between 2011 and 2015, Q2 TV viewing by 18-24-year-olds dropped by almost 8 hours per week, or by more than an hour a day. Tellingly, the largest decline (in absolute time) occurred within the past year, between Q2 2014 and Q2 2015.

Still, this past quarter’s results show that the drop-off in viewing in this demographic – which had been accelerating – has to a small degree slowed. Whereas, in percentage terms, traditional TV viewing among 18-24-year-olds was down by roughly 17% year-over-year in both Q4 2014 and Q1 2015, the Q2 year-over-year drop averaged about 13.6%.

Even so, the 32% drop-off in viewing between 2011-2015 is consistent with Q1’s results. In other words, in the space of 4 years, almost one-third of this age group’s traditional TV viewing time has migrated to other activities (or streaming).

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. (Try to look past the strange axis labels, which appear to be the result of a software glitch.)

Chart: Traditional TV Viewing, by AgeDescription: Traditional TV Viewing, by Age, Q1 2011-Q2 2015Tags: Author: MarketingChartscharts powered by iCharts

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:


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: the Q1 report [download page], for example, found traditional TV’s weekly reach to be just 76% among 18-34-year-olds, well below the 87% average for all adults. Nevertheless, the drop-off in viewing among 18-24-year-olds is broadly consistent even when looking just at persons in TV households (TV viewers). Among 18-24-year-old viewers, the Q2 2015 average of 85 hours and 34 minutes per month was down from 96 hours and 53 minutes per month during Q2 2014, representing a drop of more than 11 hours per month. The per-day decline of roughly 23 minutes is broadly in-line with the viewing drop among the 18-24 population overall.

So yes, 18-24-year-olds are watching less traditional TV – probably due to increasing consumption of over-the-top video. 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 consumption source. It’s also clear that measurement problems persist, as the Q1 report for the first time presented a look at 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 HBOGO… 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. (Note also that tablet video viewing figures are not included in the above chart.)

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 a MarketingCharts report, US Media Audience Demographics, offer a clue.

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 (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 13 other major online and offline media.

More TV Viewing Trend Data

Here are some further points to consider from Nielsen’s latest total audience report:

  • Traditional TV viewing declined on a year-over-year basis in Q2 for each of the age brackets identified save for the 65+ group. The 65+ group has only recorded two quarters (in Q4 2014 and Q1 2015) of declines in traditional TV viewing over the past 4-and-a-half years.
  • Of the last 18 quarterly reports issued by Nielsen, teens only watched more TV than 18-24-year-olds during 4. Each of those had been a third quarter – Q3 2014, Q3 2012, and Q3 2011 – until this past quarter, when teens edged 18-24-year-olds in overall viewing by about one minute per day.
  • Live TV consumption by adults averaged 4 hours and 11 minutes per day in Q2, down from 4 hours and 19 minutes per day during Q2 2014 and 4 hours and 29 minutes per day in Q2 2013.
  • Looking at users of each medium, smartphone users in the 18-24 bracket spent more time using apps and the web on their devices than radio listeners of that age group spent listening to AM/FM radio. See here and here for more on app use.
  • Examining results by ethnicity and race, the report shows that adult African-American viewers continued to consume the most TV on a monthly basis in Q2, more than double the amount of time spent by adult Asian viewers, who spent the least amount of time watching TV (218:43 vs. 89:41).
  • Overall time spent watching TV in TV households was 138 hours and 50 minutes per month, down by less than 4 hours per month from the year-earlier period.

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 with traditional TV. What’s more pertinent than the precise 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.

For more details on Nielsen’s methodology, access the latest report here.