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Nielsen’s Ad Recall Survey: Are Millennials Actually Watching?

May 17th, 2017   ||    by Melanie Brown

When it comes to the way millennials interact with traditional television, it’s no secret there’s more to it than just television. With the impressive number of options—and screens—available for consuming content, watching television has become a 360-degree experience. According to the inaugural Millennials on Millennials survey conducted by Nielsen, TV-connected and digital streaming devices account for 23 percent of the time millennials spend on video content. As a result, time spent consuming traditional television is down among that generation.

(Not) Total Recall

Unsurprisingly, ad recall among millennials is also down. Because millennials are on multiple screens simultaneously, they’re less engaged with traditional TV content—especially during commercial breaks. Nielsen’s survey revealed an ad recall among millennials of 38 percent, which is 10 percentage points lower than generation xers who come in around 48 percent.

Media has evolved rapidly since the advent of digital outlets. An entire generation has now grown up with personal computers, smartphones, and the Internet—all of which provide content and entertainment for free (to a degree)—so traditional television and its advertisers have had to adapt. Less than 2 percent of millennial viewers change the channel during a linear TV commercial break, for instance, but they’re more likely to be engrossed in their phones, tablets, or laptops during that time compared to older viewers.

Internet and streaming services are everywhere, and it can be tempting for the ad industry to proclaim the death of traditional TV. But Nielsen’s data shows millennials are still huge fans of linear television—adults aged 18–34 spend 66 percent of their video-consumption minutes on traditional TV. The drop in ad recall isn’t necessarily due to a drop in consumption, but rather a drop in engagement.

Cracking the Great Unknown

Most people, millennials included, recognize that advertising is necessary, and more than half of Nielsen’s millennial respondents said they’re okay with ads, so long as the content itself remains free. Traditional television, in this respect, remains the most effective way to reach audiences en masse because it tends to cover the most ground with its free content.

So while linear TV isn’t going anywhere, Nielsen’s survey provides a bit more insight into how the millennial generation defines television. It also offers some insight into how advertisers, and the media industry in general, can move forward in effectively targeting millennial audiences. (One important takeaway? Pay attention social media.)

What’s amazing about media’s evolution is that no one can definitively claim to know what lies ahead. New innovations are constantly combining with existing staples to renew and reshape the way audiences consume media. The hyperconnected millennial generation is the barometer for change here, and it remains to be seen which direction content consumption will ultimately move. Will streaming subscription services win out? Or will ad-supported free content continue to thrive?

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