Is the decline in young TV audiences accelerating?

Campaign canvasses the industry's leading TV (industry) watchers and youth marketing specialists.

Is the decline in young TV audiences accelerating?

A younger colleague at Campaign recently confided that they had not watched linear TV in "about five or six years". They only own a TV in order to watch Now TV and Netflix and the last programme they remember watching "live" was the news "when I was round my nan's house".

While this may be an extreme example, traditional broadcasters appear to have a young people problem. The scale of this challenge was laid bare earlier this week when Campaign revealed the number of linear TV ads seen by 16- to 34-year-old viewers had fallen by a fifth compared with a year ago.

This demographic is seen as very important for consumer products marketers because achieving brand loyalty from today's millennials yields a potential in decades of future purchases as they grow older and more affluent.

Monday's impacts report followed a Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts' warning in January that TV broadcasters were underestimating the declines in audiences and the threat from digital video services. The market responded with a 6% drop in ITV shares. 

And, just yesterday, the House of Lords has seen fit to launch an inquiry into the future of public service broadcasting in the face of rising demand for streaming platforms. Is public broadcasting even worth saving, is one of the more existential questions the Lords are asking?

"These services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, have made available thousands of hours of content for subscriptions which start at £5.99 per month – less than half the cost of a TV licence," the Lords' Communications Committee warned, adding that conventional TV viewing by under-25s has halved since 2010. 

So are broadcasters and advertisers moving too slowly as the decline in young TV audiences is accelerating? Campaign asked the industry's leading TV (industry) watchers and youth marketing specialists for their views.

Lindsey Clay

Chief executive, Thinkbox

It depends what TV you are referring to. If broadcaster video on demand: no, it’s growing. If subscription VOD: no again. But younger live TV audiences have declined from loads to lots because of the redistribution between live and VOD. 

The bigger question is what should be done. Broadcasters are working hard to engage young audiences across their services, with huge successes. But it requires clever planning and enlightened self-interest from advertisers too. However, amid change, let’s not lose sight of the fact that nearly three quarters of all the video advertising 16-34s actually see is thanks to live TV.

Jonathan Allan

Chief commercial officer, Channel 4

No. Thinkbox data shows that total video viewing by younger audiences is actually increasing and you can reach as many young people using both linear and VOD as you ever could. Underpinned by a focus on quality content for young people, Channel 4 is in a strong position to lead this transition. All 4 saw record growth last year and has just had its best ever day, with over three million views for programmes such as Leaving Neverland and Derry Girls

We are also investing more in E4 and in shows which perform well on linear and on-demand, from The Circle and The End of the F***king World through to The Great British Bake-Off. As advertisers prize quality video exposures, cross-platform TV shows are really the only brand safe, scalable place where this can be achieved.

Andrew McIntosh

Head of TV, Enders Analysis

Commercial impacts are slipping off Barb’s public radar into less-visible realms: unpublished BVOD impressions are rising fast. While alarming, 16-34 impacts are declining from very high bases. They will reduce further, but we don’t expect an acceleration because unengaged viewing was probably culled first, and quickly. TV is transitioning from omnipresence to prevalence; from mass market to most market. CPTs are rising as a result of lower impacts but TV advertising has been relatively cheap for decades, in fairness.

If advertisers value TV (which they should, given its quality environment, cover, simultaneous reach, effectiveness and brand safety), they might need to adjust their budgets. The best solution, as ever, is to follow eyeballs. This means sticking with linear TV, buying it ever better, and using on-demand too.

Steven Ballinger

Managing director, commercial and trading, Dentsu Aegis Network

Young audiences have always been notoriously difficult to reach and I think that is still true. Is there are an accelerated decline? I don’t think so. Advertisers just need to look in the right place. Yes, live TV viewing figures for young audiences are down but that’s because they are watching content on different platforms and at times that suit. Advertise where the audience is consuming, serve them the right creative and young people will continue to buy your brand's products.

Katy Woodrow-Hill

Strategy director, Livity

It's diversifying rather than declining. Across all our projects on youth audience growth, what is apparent is that young people watch and consume more of everything and that traditional TV is just one part of that mix.

So, their entertainment consumption is a DIY, make-it-up-as-you-go-along mix of TV, video, memes, long-form content, illegal streams and various socials. If they don’t get what they want from TV, they’ll go elsewhere. They’re still flocking to the things they love but they’re less bothered than the rest of us if that lives somewhere entirely outside the realm of TV broadcast.

Duncan Wynn

Sales director, Sky Media 

The viewing by 16-34s is evolving not declining, there’s a massive difference. The design of platforms like Sky Q is making it easier for audiences to watch, illustrated by 16-34 total TV set viewing increasing 15% year on year. By integrating opportunities into these new ways of watching, research has proven on-demand ads are more relevant, engaging and effective.

To put in context, if Sky On Demand was a channel, it would be the second largest commercial channel behind ITV. Including on demand in combination with linear is now an essential part of your media mix and Thinkbox has shown you can achieve the same 16-34 reach as you could in 2007. 

Andrew Challier

Chief client officer, Ebiquity

Our recent report, TV at the Tipping Point, projects a continued downward trend in viewing among 16-34 year olds, but not an acceleration. And although data from the start of the year has delivered figures that are below our "worst-case scenario", this may be due to unique factors this year, such as Sky’s deal with Netflix.

Younger audiences are watching TV in non-linear forms but brands need to understand whether they are actually seeing ads. For example, the lightest third of 16- to 34-year-old viewers watch only 10 minutes of linear TV per day, yet it is the lightest third of any target audience who are critical to delivering significant reach above 50%.

Perhaps the most interesting question is whether the viewing habits of the young will revert to those of previous older generations.

Matt Bennett

Chief creative officer, Zak

To say there is a decline in younger TV audiences is myopic. We need to redefine the metrics. Younger audiences spend more time in front of a TV than ever before. But what and how they are watching has changed fundamentally because they are the first fully connected generation.

On-demand players understand this and, starting with younger audiences, work outwards to recruit older viewers. They act like Shoreditch start-ups compared with the short-termist traditional terrestrial broadcast dinosaurs. BBC and ITV are evidently petrified of reporting declining viewer numbers and clinging on to middle-aged, middle England by their fingernails with depressing soaps and vanilla "drama" at peak times, hiding their "younger" programming away after 10.30pm or on other channels knowing that if it’s any good, it will be picked up on catch-up.

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