So much has been fomented about fragmentation as it relates to entertainment programming, but the topic really boils to down to this: There's more to watch nowadays but we still have the same number of eyes on our face and hours in the day, so attrition wins easily. And while viewer fragmentation is a reality, Millennials - the generation many marketers fear are the most fragmented - are following most forms of entertainment programming as much as, if not more than, older generations.
The keyword here being "following."
In a recent study, Vision Critical asked 1018 Americans ages 18+ how they follow 18 different types of programming, ranging from awards shows and network sitcoms to reality-competition shows and MLB playoff games. What we found revealed that younger Americans are unequivocally watching less live programming than Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers, but relying on streaming services and social media to overcompensate. Our findings also highlight the need for brands to continuously communicate with their target audience, especially young people, if they wish to compete in this constantly evolving landscape.
NFL, scripted shows remain popular
We'll start with the programming Millennials most watch live on TV: NFL regular season games (34%).**
Millennials watch NFL live on TV because, well, the NFL is Millennials' favorite sport, sports don't translate particularly well to mobile devices, sports aren't readily available on mobile devices (especially not for free) and sports have expiring social currency.
Now, we could go down the list of the other program types most commonly watched live on TV by Millennials, but when you consider that just one-third are watching any form live, what's the point? The programs young people watch in full - be it on TV or elsewhere - are those that, when divided into pieces, cannot stand alone. That means dramas or sitcoms, or shows that are story and/or character driven and demand viewer attention throughout. And when it comes to their favorite shows, missing out is rarely an option. In fact, our survey revealed that younger Americans are much less ok with missing the occasional episode or watching episodes just once than are both Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers. Furthermore, younger viewers avoid social media three times more than older generations when trying to avoid spoilers but, at the same time, use social media at least twice as much when they're unable to watch shows live because they can't stand "not knowing."
Social media drives online viewership for reality, live and late-night shows
So while fragmentation is alive, Millennials are all-in for programming that cannot be enjoyed fragmented. The same, however, cannot be said of other forms of programming that, for Millennials, aren't the sum of their parts and can be enjoyed ÌÊ la carte. These are awards shows, reality shows, news satire shows and - tada! - "The Tonight Show." In fact, one can argue it's Jimmy Fallon who made YouTube-ification a Millennial imperative. At least on some level he embraces the premise that shows like his needn't be entertaining from start to finish, but at least part of it better be. About once a week, something - be it a duet with The Boss or Brian Williams's faux-rap - that appeared on Fallon's show becomes required viewing online the next day. It's a primary reason why 60% more Millennials than Gen-Xers (and 129% more Millennials than Baby Boomers!) watch highlights/clips of late-night TV talk shows after they've originally aired.
While late-night TV now essentially caters to Millennials, the cohort watches these shows live on TV 26% less than Gen-Xers and 43% less than those 55 and over. These stats show the changing, almost tactical nature of how Millennials access certain content, but our findings also highlight why companies that wish to reach this demographic need to continuously engage them, too.
As prefaced earlier, awards shows, reality shows, and news satire shows (like "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report") aren't all that much different - and Millennials know it. Nothing trims the fat off a bloated awards show like social media. Be it updates on social media during or following an awards show, Millennials get them three times more than Gen-Xers are (and six times more than Baby Boomers are), while probably watching "Game of Thrones" streaming on HBO Go. That's just how they roll.
Millennials are consuming content
So, sure, Millennials are time-shifting, streaming, capsulizing, and pretty much doing anything in their power to personalize content to their schedule. The one thing they're not doing is ignoring it. This is good news for media companies: there's clearly an opportunity to engage these viewers on an on-going basis and to optimize the delivery of content in the mediums they use. Even if Millennials are not getting content in any traditional way, at least they're getting it. And it's about time everyone else does, too.
**Note: Slightly more younger Americans watch regular season games than NFL playoff games (32%) which, on the surface, not only seems counterintuitive but just plain wrong. Upon further review (no pun intended), there's one fairly obvious reason why regular season games prevail: fantasy football, which is a non-starter in the playoffs. For many NFL fans, the primary reason they watch regular season games is to support (and razz) their fantasy players.