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Three Truths About Millennial TV Viewers

It’s pretty much taken as gospel these days that millennials are cord-cutters, eager to abandon television as we know it and torch broadcast and cable business models along the way.

The reality, though, is a lot more nuanced. Yes, millennials are more likely to opt out of subscriptions to traditional cable-TV bundles. But they’re cord-cutting in only the most narrow sense—substituting one delivery system (linear TV) for another (on-demand streaming) and one type of hardware (cable-fed TVs) for others (mobile devices, and TVs and PCs rigged with over-the-top solutions).

They’re still watching TV shows—lots of TV shows—and consuming plenty of programming generated by the “traditional” TV industry. They’re just doing it on their own terms.

At Watchwith, where our team of entertainment, technology and advertising experts has been studying video-consumption patterns since 2012, we’re particularly interested in understanding the psychology of what works and what doesn’t for the new generation of TV viewers, particularly when it comes to advertising messages.

Three broad findings:

Mobile pre-roll feels like a personal violation for millennials

All of us tend to be deeply connected to, and dependent on, our mobile devices, but for digital-native millennials, omnipresent smartphones are almost like an extension of their bodies—and of their personalities. That’s why pre-roll and mid-roll advertising that might be acceptable, or at least tolerable, in a desktop setting becomes absolutely rage-inducing on mobile.

At Watchwith, we’ve heard again and again from millennial consumers about their incredible feeling of frustration while watching pre-roll on a phone. There’s a profound mismatch between the pre-roll experience and a personal device like a smartphone. Pre-roll advertising in a desktop browser tab comes off as interruptive, but the same pre-roll on mobile feels domineering, like viewers have been temporarily deprived of the sense of control they take for granted—indeed, demand—when using their beloved devices.

Interactive TV is entirely, magically intuitive on mobile for millennials

Many digital-native millennials grew up, or at least came of age, thinking of media consumption as a tactile experience. It’s entirely natural—indeed, second nature—for them to feel their way through media on mobile devices. All those years of people fumbling with remotes to navigate through cable guides and various iterations of “interactive TV” have given way to being able to touch, tap and swipe—and in the process, instantly control their content-consumption destiny.

The very culture surrounding video itself, on both mobile and desktop, engenders seamless interaction; consider the billions of shares, likes/dislikes and channel subscriptions in just the YouTube ecosystem alone.

Millennials are poised to interact—in context, in program

Millennials are incredibly distracted consumers of content—they’re media multitaskers—so programming that allows them to multi-task in-program helps them satisfy their natural desire to touch, tap and swipe their way through their content-consumption journey.

In a recent study Watchwith conducted in collaboration with Magid Associates, we found that more than half of 18- to 24-year-olds are more likely to watch more episodes of a show if the show has in-program (i.e., non-interruptive) ads. We also found that in-program ads have higher levels of unaided recall compared to traditional TV ads. The point is to let the show continue flowing, but still get the ad message across.

In other words, while millennials may be inveterate multitaskers, when they’re actually in the flow of content-consumption, they’re ready and willing to interact with brand messages on their own terms.

Zane Vella is the CEO of Watchwith, a company that creates in-program native advertising inventory for TV networks.



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