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How different generations watch TV

How Generations Watch TV: Your Cheat Sheet

October 8th, 2019   ||    by Callie Wheeler

Want to understand the differences between boomers and Gen Z? Just look at how generations watch TV. As much as their purchasing habits and clothing trends, TV tells quite a story, and it’s not always the story you expect.

While all generations are still happily consuming television, their methods, favorite programs, and viewing habits differ from one to another. Here’s a quick look at these differences.

Gen Z

The youngest generation is full of contradictions. On the one hand, they don’t watch much traditional TV, averaging just over 10 hours each week. They favor streaming over traditional methods of watching, and according to The Hollywood Reporter, the decline in traditional viewing has been steady since it began in 2014.

But when it comes to what Gen Z is watching, the answer is surprising: many of the same shows as their parents. From Sunday Night Football to This is Us, most of the shows topping ratings for this group mirrored those for older demos. An exception was the CW’s Riverdale, as Forbes noted.


Ready for another surprise? If you think you know how generations watch TV, you likely assume millennials are closely aligned to Gen Z’s habits, favoring streaming over traditional TV. But that’s not the case: in another Forbes piece, research showed this group is more likely to watch their favorite programs via traditional TV than streaming content, with 44 percent of millennials watching them on cable or broadcast television, like Game of Thrones. Only 25 percent watch their favorite programs on Netflix.

Millennials also demonstrate a strong connection to the television they view—from researching characters to visiting filming locations—and prefer to watch TV with family and friends. This preference for sharing the experience of watching TV, coupled with a proclivity to watch it live, point to generationally unique shared experiences like watching parties.

Baby Boomers

Trends are changing for Americans 60 years or older, a group increasingly made up of baby boomers. According to Pew Research Center, older Americans are spending more time in front of screens than ever, with about half of their daily leisure time spent watching television or streaming video.

In comparison to other generations, they spend the least amount of time in front of screens, with Gen Z spending 10 hours to their four to five hours.

Key Takeaways

It may be surprising how generations watch TV, given the number of similarities between the groups. But a few points stand out: want to reach Gen Z and their parents? You can find shows that appeal to both. Want to strategically connect to millennials? They’re likely watching their favorite programs together. Concerned that baby boomers and older generations are hard to reach? Research shows they’re easier to reach than ever, and your strategy for advertising to boomers probably needs a second look.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that TV plays a big role in every generation; there’s something for everyone.

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