As coverage of the cantankerous and unpredictable 2016 political election season draws big TV ratings for traditional cable-news networks, upstart channels targeting young millennials with political-themed content are campaigning online to reach one of the largest voting blocks in U.S. history.
Networks like Fusion, Revolt TV, Pivot and Fuse are looking to secure the votes of a politically engaged group of 18-to-34-year-olds looking for content that speaks to issues important to them — topics that aren’t always addressed by the cable news channels.
From online voter registration campaigns to millennial-focused reports from the major political party conventions to social-media initiatives on key issues such as immigration, police brutality and LGBT rights, network executives said it’s critical to provide content to millennials when and where they want it.
“We have seen from our audience that they are an active, socially relevant group, and they care about issues that can affect not only them but society at large, from Black Lives Matter to [the drinking-water crisis in] Flint to immigration issues and LGBT issues — this audience is vocal and they care about these issues,” Revolt TV CEO Keith Clinkscales said. “We wanted to make sure that we were uniquely positioned to impact the political conversation, and give the young people who consume our media an opportunity to amplify their voices.”
To accomplish that, networks are taking a multiplatform approach to disseminating political news to an audience that watches less TV and spends more time online, executives said.
Millennials aged 18-34 may watch less live TV than any other demographic group, but they’re the most likely to use a connected-TV device such as Apple TV or Roku, according to a new Nielsen Total Audience Report for fourth-quarter 2015.
That age group also spent more than 11 hours per week using smartphones to access the Web and apps during fourth-quarter 2015, up from eight hours during the same period in 2014, according to Nielsen.
Millennials have followed the 2016 presidential campaign closely because the candidates have been so active on social media, David Quinn, senior brand lead for digital marketing firm Beamly, said.
“All the candidates are active on Twitter and using video on YouTube and have remained active in the political conversation with millennials,” Quinn said.
That leaves an opening for millennial-targeted networks to provide political content to an already engaged audience.
For Fuse, that means teaming with Hispanic-targeted, non-profit political organization Voto Latino to create a multiplatform initiative dubbed “Crash the Parties,” Fuse Media CEO Michael Schwimmer said. Millennial Latinos can vie for a chance to become Fuse reporters at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the Democratic convention in Philadelphia.
Would-be reporters can submit a video to Fuse.tv for network viewers to vote on. Two winners will be chosen to represent the network at the conventions, providing frequent video updates both online and on he linear channel.
The network (then called Sí TV) ran a similar campaign with Voto Latino in 2008. “With the social media tools that are available in 2016 that were not available in 2008, it’s going to be even easier and more effective in getting out the word and getting people engaged in the process,” Schwimmer said.
Revolt’s “Revolt 2 Vote” initiative will include a weekly digital series on the revolt.tv website, featuring interviews with political leaders and insights from millennial thought leaders and influencers, Clinkscales said.
The music channel’s primarily digital political content will be headed by millennial journalist Amrit Singh as well as a “kitchen cabinet” of young political voices who will discuss the campaign on Revolt.tv and social-media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
“The main thing is we have digital coverage because that’s where millennials are aggregating political content, and then we’ll do some linear programming as well,” he said.
As some 93 million millennials will be of voting age going into this year’s election, Clinkscales said it’s imperative to provide them information to make informed decisions.
“More than 30 million young people stayed home in 2012,” he said. “[Turnout] was very low — one of the lowest numbers on record. The frustration that young people have with the American political system is an opportunity to make sure we provide them with the engagement they need.”
The emerging networks are also hoping to reach millennial viewers in a way the bigger, more mainstream news networks haven’t so far. While both Fox News Channel and CNN ranked among the top 10 most-watched cable networks among total viewers during the first quarter 2016 among total viewers, neither is among the top 15 networks within the 18-49 demo, according to Nielsen.
“Millennials are not turning on the TV and watching the cable news networks,” Quinn said. “The shows that are speaking to the group are from external video Web shows.”
“They have their hands full,” Clinkscales said. “We have the luxury of going after one of America’s largest generations ever — 93 million strong and 40% from communities of color. This is the time to understand what’s going on with this 18-to-34-year-old audience.”
GOING TO THE MOVIES
Pivot will take a different tack to inform millennials about the political process, relying on politically-themed movies throughout the summer to keep politics on the minds of its younger viewers, Pivot general manager Kent Rees said.
The network will feature such films as All the President’s Men, Wag the Dog and The Fog of War.
“We’re more contextualizing the political process through these films that we’ve identified,” Rees said. “Millennials crave context and they crave it in all different directions, and having them sit down and watch a fi lm that comments on the process in general as well as documentaries like Caucus that touch on how the process works.”
The network will feature around the #justvote public-awareness campaign, which encourages young people to register and vote. Rees said there often isn’t a lot of information in the marketplace as to how to vote, so the eff ort will explain the process to help get millennials to the voting booth.
“Their involvement is clear, and it’s a great way to galvanize them,” Rees said. “It’s the largest generation in American history, and they’ve only just begun to understand their power and the opportunities to affect change in the country at large.”
R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.
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