Breaking Bad: series like the US hit are changing the way milennials consume media
Breaking Bad: series like the US hit are changing the way milennials consume media
A view from Mark Holden

Breaking Bad has turned Albuquerque into a travel destination for millennials

62% of 18-34 year olds say they watch more TV programming from the US than the UK. This 'window' into US culture is shaping media...

In the last few years we’ve witnessed our love affair with the U.S. hit new heights, shaping our consumption and media behaviours in what I think are pretty remarkable ways. And it’s no coincidence that it’s happened at the same time that we’ve seen the rapid growth of U.S-based on-demand services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, in what is arguably a new golden age for TV production, driving the emergence of the binge-watching viewer. 

Google searches for ‘stags in Vegas’ skyrocketed after the release of the Hangover

For a long-time our ‘cultural window’ into the U.S. has been through its two big cultural metropolises, New York and Los Angeles. We’ve experienced the U.S. through the prism of Friends, Sex and the City, Seinfeld, 90210, The Fresh Prince, The A-Team and, yes, even Macgyver. But something different is starting to happen. Travel brands have caught onto the power of cult-TV viewing. Take the mini-tourism boom to Albuquerque, previously barely known by anyone outside of New Mexico, driven largely by the opportunistic introduction of Breaking Bad tours.

This isn’t a one-off phenomenon. Google searches for ‘stags in Vegas’ skyrocketed after the release of the Hangover. There are record numbers of UK visitors to US sporting events, not a coincidence when sports like the NFL have grown in both popularity and viewership (live or on-air) recently.  Even troubled Baltimore has become something of a cult tourist destination thanks to The Wire. And I like to think we owe at least something in the rise of fast casual US-style dining in the UK to Man vs. Food.

Strong cultural influence

So it seems we’re literally and figuratively seeing more of the U.S. and learning to love the places that have inadvertently become the ‘stars’ of a new wave of programming. The U.S. has, of course, always exerted a strong cultural influence in the UK through film and TV. But it seems to be accelerating. In research we’ve conducted at Arena Media we’ve found that 62% of 18-34 year olds say they watch more TV programming from the US than the UK.  

The net effect is a change in our views of the US and even our travel behaviour. Over half of us feel more receptive to taking a holiday to the US versus 5 years ago, and the same proportion say there’s more variety in the type of trip they can take to the USA. So it’s not surprising that UK visitors to the US have increased every year for the last 5 years, and last year the US was the fasting growing long-haul destination worldwide, which is a reflection that our awareness and understanding of the breadth of cultural experiences we have across the Atlantic is growing – something that is clearly fuelled by the U.S-originated content we’re watching.

The enduring cultural influence of TV and film means that it’s likely to be an indicator, or even predictor, of new kinds of consumer behaviour

There are other ways in which this new love affair is manifesting itself: the emergence of the Superbowl as a viewing event in the UK, the rise of Halloween as a now established cultural (and of course retail) fixture in our calendars, and even the nakedly commercial appropriation of Black  Friday in what seems to be another successful crossover. It’s not a one way street, however, and I think the reason that we’re appropriating more U.S. culture is because it’s a reciprocal phenomenon. Witness the boom in Game of Thrones tourism to Northern Ireland, Downton Abbey tours or the steady rise in viewership and participation in ‘soccer’ in the U.S – now the second most popular sport in the U.S.

For brands (and not just travel brands) who pay close attention to the ways in which this cultural exchange is manifesting, there are opportunities to be found in the new kinds of behaviours that are emerging, from how we spend our leisure time, to where and why we travel, to when we buy and to what we eat and drink.

And a good starting point for this is to pay attention to what we’re watching on screens – the enduring cultural influence of TV and film means that it’s likely to be an indicator, or even predictor, of new kinds of consumer behaviour.