How Millennials Consume TV Depends on Which Stage of Life They're In

Nielsen report examines the demo's viewing habits

Millennials without kids spend more time on tablets and smartphones than those who have started a family. Getty Images

There's a reason that millennials are so hard for advertisers to pin down: Their media consumption is in constant flux, given that adults in that 18-34 demo are in "rapid transition." That's according to Nielsen's Q4 2015 Total Audience Report, released this morning, which delved into the media consumption habits of advertising's most elusive, and often mystifying, demographic.

The report found millennials who have started a family spend significantly more time watching TV—an average of an hour per day more than those who don't have children or still live with their parents.

"It's not about age, it's about life stage," wrote Glenn Enoch, evp, audience insights for Nielsen, in the report. "18-34 year olds are not a monolithic group with a common set of technologies or behaviors. Their lives are in rapid transition as they join the workforce, move into their own homes and start families."

The Total Audience Report, which is not to be confused with the Total Audience Measurement ratings that Nielsen is rolling, broke millennials into three separate life stage groups: Dependent Adults (those who are living in someone else's home, usually a parent or parents), On Their Own (those who are living in their own home, with no children) and Starting a Family (those living in their own home, with children).

For example, 97 percent of 18-year-olds live in someone's else home, usually a parent or parents. But 90 percent of 34-year-olds live in their own home, while 60 percent of those have children. In the middle of the demo, roughly one-third of 26- and 27-year-olds falls into each of the three life stages.

Those three groups had very different media preferences during Q4 2015:


The On Their Own group is more likely than any other millennial group to have a multimedia device, high-speed internet and laptops, as well as access to an SVOD service like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. Seventy-eight percent of On Their Own Millennials have subscription video on demand (SVOD) services like Netflix and Hulu, compared to 64 percent of Dependent Adults and 58 percent of Staring a Family.

On Their Owns spent more than 94 hours using PCs, tablets and smartphones in November 2015, which was around 10 more hours than all 18-34 adults that month and 18 more hours than Dependent Adults.

Starting a Family millennials are more likely to own DVRs (47 percent), DVD players (69 percent) and tablets (65 percent). That group also spends the most time at home of the three groups, and not surprisingly, it watches the most live TV (3:16 per day, in hours: minutes) and also has the most total TV screen use (4:40).

The average 18-34 person spent 2:45 watching live TV each day in Q4 2015, and another 1:23 using TV-connected devices, for a total of 4:08 of TV time each day. The Starting a Family group spent 3:16 a day watching live TV, an hour more than On Their Owns (2:06), while Dependent Adults watch less live TV (2:32) and spend less time with TV overall (3:44).

On Their Owns have the lowest ownership of traditional sources of video and spend the most time outside the home. They watch the least amount of live TV (2:06), but have the most access to multimedia devices and SVOD services, so they spend the most time with TV-connected devices (1:32).

Looking beyond just millennials, Nielsen's report found that the average adult still spent the most time in Q4 2015 watching live TV, averaging 4:27 per day, which is 20 minutes below the daily live TV consumption just two years earlier.

While DVR/time-shifted TV, DVD/Blu-ray usage and game console time has remained relatively flat over the past two years, multimedia device time—a connected TV device like Apple TV, Roku and Google Chromecast—has jumped to 11 minutes per day, versus just 4 minutes in 2013. The biggest increase came from app/web usage on smartphones (1:12, a 31 minute increase from 2013) and app/web usage on tablets (which doubled in two years, from 11 minutes to 23 minutes per day).

The full Total Audience Report can be accessed here.

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