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It’s Linear vs. Digital in Millenial War

The debate over which medium offers advertisers the best reach with millennials—digital video or linear TV—has gotten louder, and the volume will likely be cranked up this upfront week. Given the spending power of 18-34s, which has been estimated as $2.45 trillion, there’s plenty of reason to fight.

The NewFronts, held from May 2-13, featured frequent digital assertions about millennial video reach. YouTube proclaimed it reaches more 18-to-49-year-olds on mobile alone than any broadcast or cable network. In primetime, they added, they get more viewers in the demo than the top 10 linear shows combined.

Less convincingly, Fullscreen used its NewFront to point out that one of its original series, How to Survive High School, featuring YouTube star Eva Gutowski, has piled up more than 36 million views. Senior VP of influencer marketing Maureen Polo directly compared that with ratings for Pretty Little Liars on Freeform, which are in the 2 million range per week. And the company’s “HisScreen” aggregator offers better reach to millennial men, sales chief Kevin McGurn maintained, than if they bought ads on The Walking Dead or college football. Hmmm.

Claims like that will likely be countered aggressively next week as the broadcasters, Turner and ESPN make their pitches. Many TV partisans and even neutral observers pointed out that view time is a conspicuously missing element in many digital raps. If a viewer watches a video for three seconds, it counts the same as someone settling in to watch an episode of The Voice. 

“Plus, they don’t know if a video auto-played while the viewer was emailing while the video played on mute,” one media buyer pointed out to B&C.

This is sensitive terrain for the broadcast networks, which are leaking 18-to-34-year-old viewers. As John Consoli reported exclusively on last week, Nielsen data show the big five broadcast nets are down an average of 10.4% in the demo season-to-date.

The binary discussion obscures a large grey area. A study of 3,200 global viewers of online video released May 12 by ad-tech company Unruly found that millennials are passionately engaged with ads but also wary of them. They are 112% more likely to share ads they like online than any other demographic, but 93% of them are considering ad-blocking software and four out of five put video ads on mute. 

Summed up Unruly co-CEO Sarah Wood: “This is a high-risk, high-reward demographic.” 

At least one NewFronts brand tried to move beyond the controversy. AwesomenessTV focused much of its pitch on the next generation. Awesomeness “has embraced GenZ,”its press release said. The release’s only mention of the m-word? A brief shoutout to “millennial moms.”