Upfronts 2016: Numbers Show Millennials Abandoning Broadcast Networks

Complete Coverage: Upfronts 2016

YouTube caused a stir, and some immediate push-back from traditional rivals, by trumpeting new research that shows it reaches more 18-49s on mobile alone than does any broadcast or cable network.

With more claims and counter-claims likely during next week's broadcast/cable upfront extravaganza, B&C wanted to do some fact-checking by examining season-to-date Nielsen data. It shows an unmistakable trend: Millennial viewers have continued abandoning broadcast network primetime programming in droves this season in both live and delayed viewing modes. Some shows have lost as much as 30-40% of their 18-34-year-old audience, according to the ratings figures.

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While marketers and their media agencies negotiate ad deals with the broadcasters based on 18-49 and 25-54 viewer demographics, advertisers have traditionally gotten 18-34-year-old viewers basically as value added or for free. No advertiser buys a broadcast network primetime show specifically to reach millennials, but it has been a nice perk when making a mass network TV buy.

That perk has all but disappeared this season and on many of the most-watched overall shows on broadcast television. Last season, there were 19 shows in broadcast primetime that drew 1 million or more 18-34 demo viewers. This season that number has dwindled to 12.

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Taking the biggest hit has been ABC, whose 18-34 live-plus-same day rating is down 18.6%. The CW, which has traditionally catered to younger audiences but in recent years has aged up with its programming target, is down 16.1% this season among 18-34s. NBC is down 9.7%, Fox is down 7.4% and CBS is down 3.2%. Overall, the five broadcast networks are down 10.4% in 18-34 viewership.

The trend does not bode well going forward for the broadcast networks as they struggle to survive, not only in their battle within an oversaturated linear TV market but also in a battle for viewers and ad dollars with the continually growing digital and OTT viewing competitors.

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Brian Hughes, senior VP and head of the audience analysis practice at Magna Global, says the defection of millennials, particularly ages 18-24, is one of the reasons why the agency this week agreed in a major upfront deal to move some $250 million of clients' marketing dollars over a three-year period from linear TV to YouTube's Google Preferred. "We have definitely observed that millennials are at the forefront of changing consumption habits when it comes to TV and video," Hughes said. "Our Google deal is a very concrete way we are responding to both audience changes and the resulting market conditions."

ABC leads the way in millennial viewer defections with the biggest loser being second-year drama How to Get Away with Murder, which has lost 700,000 18-34 viewers this season. Fox's animated comedy Family Guy also lost 700,000 millennials. ABC's hit drama Scandal has lost 500,000 millennial viewers, the same number as drama Once Upon a Time. And those numbers, like the viewer numbers for most of the shows that have lost millennials, happen across the board at virtually the same rate. So it's not just a live-plus-same day viewing problem. A chunk of millennials are just no longer watching those popular shows at all on television. They could still be on OTT or streaming services.

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How To Get Away with Murder last season averaged 2.7 million 18-34 viewers in live-plus-three and 2.8 million in live-plus-seven. This season those numbers are 1.7 million and 1.9 million respectively.

Family Guy last season averaged 2.3 million millennials in live-plus-three and 2.5 in live-plus-seven. This season the show is averaging 1.4 in live-plus-three and 1.5 in live-plus-seven – down 1 million viewers in delayed, seven-day viewing compared to last season.

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Scandal last season averaged 2.4 million millennials in live-plus-three and 2.6 million in live-plus-seven. This year those numbers are 1.8 million and 2 million respectively.

Other broadcast primetime shows that drew over 1 million 18-34 viewers last season but who are losing significant millennials this season in live viewing include: Fox drama Gotham (down 500,000) and Fox comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine (-450,000), Fox's animated comedy The Simpsons and comedy Last Man on Earth (each down 300,000), NBC's The Voice (-300,000) and CBS' most-watched comedy, The Big Bang Theory (-300,000).

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Then there are a bunch of shows with fewer than 1 million millennials last season and this season who are also bleeding millennial viewers. They include ABC's Galavant (down 330,000) and Castle (-300,000); CBS' The Odd Couple (-300,000), CSI: Cyber (-250,000) and Mom (-250,000); Fox's MasterChef Junior (-250,000) and Sleepy Hollow (-250,000); ABC's Modern Family (-250,000); CBS' 2 Broke Girls (225,000); ABC's Shark Tank (-200,000); and Fox's Bob's Burgers (-200,000).

As the numbers bear out, even most of broadcast's most-watched shows aren't immune to millennial defections.

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Not all broadcast shows are bleeding millennial viewers this season however.  Fox's Empire and American Idol, ABC's The Bachelor and Grey's Anatomy, CBS' Survivor, Undercover Boss and Blue Bloods, the latter being one of the oldest-skewing shows on television, and The CW's The Flash have all been relatively stable in the demo. Although half of those shows have millennial audiences of well less than 1 million viewers.

A couple of primetime shows actually showed small bumps in millennial viewing – CBS' 60 Minutes (up to 816,000 from 781,000) and ABC's The Middle (up to 793,000 from 759,000). The Bachelor is up about 60,000 millennials to 1.5 million.

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The most-watched show in broadcast primetime this season among millennial viewers, just like last season, has been Fox drama Empire, averaging 3 million 18-34 viewers, flat with last season. And that number rises to 4 million among live-plus-three-day viewers and to 4.2 among live-plus seven-day millennial viewers.

Big Bang, like last season, is still the second most-watched show among millennials, averaging 1.6 million live-plus same day, not only down 300,000 in that mode, but also down 500,000 in live-plus-three and down 500,000 in live-plus-seven.

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The Bachelor is the third most-watched primetime show among millennials in live-plus-same day mode averaging 1.5 million, followed by the only freshman show to make the list this season – Fox's The X-Files, which has averaged 1.4 million millennial viewers. Next are ABC veteran comedy Modern Family, drama Grey's Anatomy, and NBC's Monday version of The Voice, all averaging 1.3 million millennials. Scandal and The Voice on Tuesday are next with 1.2 million 18-34 viewers. The Wednesday edition of Fox's American Idol, in its last season, averaged 1.1 million millennials, as is The Simpsons, while How to Get Away with Murder is averaging 1 million millennials.

Those are the only broadcast network primetime entertainment shows averaging 1 million or more millennial viewers this season. Falling below the 1 million mark after being above it last season are ABC's Once Upon a Time, NBC's The Blacklist, Fox's Family Guy, Gotham, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Thursday's American Idol and The Last Man on Earth, and CBS' The Odd Couple.

The X-Files has the most millennial viewers among the new broadcast network series, averaging 1.4 million that rises to 1.9 million in live-plus-three day and 2.1 million in live-plus-seven. The next most-watched freshman show among 18-34 viewers has been CBS comedy Life in Pieces, averaging 892,000, followed by NBC drama Blindspot, averaging 859.000. There are also a handful of new shows averaging between 650,000 and 800,000 millennial viewers.

However, an interesting piece of viewership data finds CBS veteran drama Blue Bloods, with the oldest median age viewer audience on broadcast television, has averaged 438,000 18-34 viewers this season and that is more than several new shows, which skew younger.

Among the lowest-viewed freshman shows by millennials this season in live-plus-same day viewing include: ABC's Blood & Oil with 415,000 millennial viewers and already cancelled; Fox's The Grinder, 373,000 18-34 viewers; Fox's already cancelled Minority Report (332,000); NBC's The Player (284,000) which also has been cancelled; ABC's cancelled Wicked City (280,000) and cancelled after two episodes Of Kings & Prophets (257,000); and the least-watched new show by millennials, The CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend with 171,000 18-34 viewers. Crazy Ex, by the way, has been renewed.

While the Magna Global deal with YouTube/Google Preferred is the first announced deal and a sizable one, it's fair to expect that as this year's upfront negotiations get going in earnest, there will be more agencies who want to reach younger viewers moving dollars out of broadcast TV.