Nielsen: Millennials are a distracted audience

Millennials – now the largest generational group in the US – have grown alongside advancements in technology and media platforms, placing them in intriguing territory with regard to media habits, reports Nielsen. When it comes to television, their eyes are glued to the screen. With commercials, they’re still tuned in—but their eyes are on their cell phones.

Nielsen’s inaugural Millennials on Millennials report offers critical insight into the evolving media habits of this highly digital demographic, and was produced by a team of Nielsen Millennial associates keen to help clients engage and reach a generation that every modern marketer is seeking a connection with.

As marketers and advertisers look for the best opportunities to reach this demographic, they need precise insight into the evolving viewing and consumption habits of Millennials, which are closely watched and coveted.

The report uncovered three key things about about Millennial audience:


TV still constitutes the majority of video consumption, but every other screen is much more valuable to Millennials. TV-connected devices (DVD players, VCRs, game consoles and digital streaming devices) compose four times the percentage of Millennials’ total video minutes than adults 35 and older: TV-connected devices account for 23 per cent of Millennials’ total time with video, compared with just 6 per cent for consumers 35 and older. And as a result, Millennials spend about 27 per cent less time watching traditional TV (89 per cent among 35+ vs. 66 per cent among Millennials).


The report looked at a handful of popular, primetime programs to understand the dynamics of multi-tasking and attention among Millennials compared with other generations. During premiere episodes of various primetime programs in the fall of 2015, Millennials were least likely to change the channel during commercial breaks.

Less than 2 per cent of 18-34 year olds changed the channel during commercials, compared with 5.5 per cent of 35-54 year olds and more than 8 per cent of viewers 55 and older. Given their engagement with other devices, however, Millennials had the lowest program engagement and lowest ad memorability scores during the studied shows.

Knowing that audiences, including Millennials, may opt to skip advertising if given the choice, content providers often disable ad-skipping features in their VoD content. In terms of openness to advertising, however, Millennials are quite open to viewing ads as long as the content they are viewing is free on their mobile devices. As a result, marketers and advertisers have a notable opportunity to present their value propositions to young viewers who are tapping into the realm of content available via their connected devices.

Upon further review of Millennial habits during commercials, these viewers report that they’re most likely to use their phones – a prime outlet to engage with social media. Smartphones provide a plethora of ways users can engage with other forms of content and social media serves as a notable slice of that pie.

Given their engagement with social media during commercial breaks, it’s not surprising that Millennials score lower than older generations when it comes to ad memorability. Nielsen’s recent Millennial Media Advisors Report notes that TV ads have an average memorability of 38 per cent among Millennials, 10 percentage points lower than among Gen X’ers 35 and over (48 per cent).

The low memorability rates, however, don’t stem from a dislike of advertisements.

Rather, Millennials understand the necessity of ads in order for brands to inform the public of their products and services (79 per cent) and many say that overall, ads don’t bother them (46 per cent)—especially if the content they’re viewing is free (75 per cent).


Among Millennials, social media stars are becoming synonymous with the word “celebrity.” In a write-in section of our custom survey, numerous respondents named several social media stars multiple times when asked: “Please list your current top five favourite celebrities.” When tested against mainstream stars, social media stars hold their own in terms of celebrity status. For example, according to Nielsen’s N-Score, a measure of a celebrity’s marketability, male Millennials have a higher opinion of trending social media stars than they do for sports stars, pop stars, actors and actresses.

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