As Millennial television viewing falls, Boomer importance to advertisers grows

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Millennials jump ship; TV brands face the empty nest syndrome

The advertising and broadcast worlds are aflutter that Millennials are jumping the conventional television ship in record numbers. New Nielsen data, first reported in the New York Post, achieved worldwide reach when the Financial Times ran an in-depth follow-up.

Jumping shipAccording to Nielsen, viewership of traditional TV among viewers ages 18 to 34 has fallen by about 4% annually since 2012. It slid by a staggering 10.6% from September, 2014 to January, 2015.

Alan Wurtzel, NBCUniversal’s head of audience research, said “The change in behavior is stunning … I’ve never seen that kind of change in behavior.”

Well, our streetsmart consulting team can add some sorely needed perspective.

Stating the obvious, Millennials grew up in a very different media ecosystem than did their Boomer parents. But let’s not forget, since 2009, the economic slump and tight job market have been especially tough on them.

Unemployment by generation

Last year, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found unemployment is significantly higher among 18-29 year olds than Gen Xers or Boomers (HT MarketWatch).

So, no surprise, reports that 30% of adults 18-34 still have to live with a parent, up from 23% in 2000 (Source: U.S. Census Bureau).

So, what better way to escape mom and dad – and their Rockford Files re-runs – than to dive into one’s private streaming world.

More importantly, for Millennials striking out on their own, there’s the cost of cable TV to consider. Averaging $120+ per month (NPD Group) that’s quite a chunk of change for a young person just starting out in life – especially when wide entertainment choices and lower cost await on the Internet.

Well, it had to happen sooner or later; television advertisers will just have to adjust to the empty nest syndrome. Not a bad deal, actually, because although Millennials are moving on, the long Boomer love affair with television lingers.

Nielsen found that viewing among those 55+ remained fairly stable since 2010, slipping by only 2%.

Boomers and TV grew up together

It’s not just that Boomers have been slower to switch away – we also stream and populate the Netflix audience – but we grew up with television. Its evolution was a metaphor for our own lives.

Lone RangerDuring its innocent childhood, through the mid 1960s, there was Leave It To Beaver, Gilligan’s Island, Star Trek and a slew of westerns symbolizing the American experience in self-confident strokes: good guys, white hats, bad guys, black hats.

In its adolescent 1970s, TV experienced mood swings. Feel-good shows ran in schizoid counterpoint to the nightly news of social, economic, political and – increasingly – environmental crises. Edgier sitcoms echoed the angst with hints that maybe we had more black hats than we figured.

No wonder that, as young adults in the 1980s, our emotions were exhausted; we just wanted to veg out with Big Hair fun, fluff and good news. It was morning in America.

Magnum P.I.In the 1982-83 season, eleven of the twelve top-rated shows were glam prime time series, family-friendly comedies or easy-going detective shows. From Dallas to The Love Boat, from Three’s Company to The Jeffersons and from our personal favorite, Magnum P.I., to The A-Team‘s blinged-out Mr. T, it was all about escapism.

But Boomers craved even more television.

By 1982 ESPN, CNN, MTV and The Weather Channel had all launched, and cable TV was taking off like crazy. Oh yes, and the ever-expanding cable bill had arrived.

In the 21st century, someone with time to kill at 2:00 AM can surf hundreds of channels – though we still have to settle for nasal health infomercials for want of anything more enticing. Been there, done that.

Boomers still rule: the median age of TV viewers is 51

As media big dogs have reported for years, Boomers are crucial to broadcast TV. In 2011 the NY Post quoted an Ad Age estimate of 51 for the median viewer age; in 2014, The L.A. Times said 54, and the most recent Nielsen study (above) is at 50.

So it’s clear that savvy and disruptive advertisers need to learn how to engage us. Before long the Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1965 (Boomers + big sisters/brothers born 1940-1945 + 4 million Gen Xers in 2015) may be all they have left to talk to.

And it’s not as if we’re a niche audience: we’re 93 million Americans who own over 70% of U.S. household net worth. If this were a country it would be the world’s #3 economy, a larger, affluent market than Japan, Germany, France, the UK or than Canada plus Australia.

For TV advertisers, we’re the ones in the white hats.

Opportunity White Hats

Boomer - neXt SM logo_MMOriginally published as a Boomer-Plus Consulting Group post; in September, 2017, we up-branded as Boomer / neXt to welcome the 4 million Gen Xers who join the Boomers in the 50+ space each year.

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