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The truth behind Generation Z’s TV viewing habits

David Crawford

David Crawford

Arqiva’s managing director of satellite and media, David Crawford, explores the true TV habits of Generation Z – and what they might mean for the future of TV.

It has become a recurring theme among observers of the TV industry that young people have rejected broadcast television and no longer choose to watch linear TV. While recent analysis of viewing patterns and quantitative research from the likes of Ofcom and Thinkbox has shown that linear still plays a significant role in the viewing mix for young adults, these reports also showed that over half of viewing amongst 12-18 year olds is non-linear video-on-demand (VoD) and over the top (OTT) content. So what are the true TV habits of Generation Z?

Arqiva’s Millennials Research Project confirmed the quantitative research findings of Ofcom and Thinkbox that around half of millennials’ viewing is non-traditional, non-linear. However, we went one step further to find out the ‘why’ so we can begin to predict how content viewing will develop over the coming years. A qualitative research study, the project monitored the viewing behaviours of 20 British children aged 12-18 over the course of one month to uncover the true TV habits of Generation Z.

Are the millennial generation really mobile-first and on-demand only when it comes to watching their favourite shows, or do traditional TV experiences, in traditional family scenarios, still have a role to play in their viewing schedule?

Traditional TV for modern millennials

The study found that contrary to the repeated assertion of the mobile and new media industries, the big screen in the lounge is still a dominant device for millennials. Whether by numbers of hours used, or first preferences for viewing , the size and resolution of the screen matters, as does who they’re watching it with.

The findings also revealed that millennials were doing the majority of their main screen TV viewing in the company of, and guided by, family and friends, not just because they lived together but because it formed an important part of their social interaction with these groups. It also proved to be the type of TV experience they enjoyed the most.

However, while the big screen is still having a big impact on young TV viewers today, the direct link between the traditional TV set and linear content seems to have weakened.

When millennials are in control of the big screen in the lounge, they use it to watch a much wider range of content formats than a traditional TV audience. Their chosen mix still includes live and linear shows, but in equal measure with catch-up and subscription video on demand (SVoD) content, and increasingly using any device they can plug into a screen.

Linear TV is certainly still part of the mix when millennials are viewing on their own, but this solo TV time is also when they watch twice as much OTT and SVoD content, in comparison to when part of a family group.

It may be the big traditional TV screen they want, but they are a long way from traditional in the way that they use it.

Weekday versus weekend viewing

It’s not just watching in a group that changes millennial viewing habits. The study gave us insight into the varying viewing preferences that millennials have, at different times of the week; some of which are bound to have an effect on broadcast schedulers.

The big screen TV in the lounge was dominant in the week, when family routines were most structured. But at weekends, when they have more time and family behaviour is not so structured, millennials watch more video content outside the lounge and more VoD OTT on their computers, phones and tablets. They want to be able to access content when they want, where they want, and these devices allow them to do that.

Therefore, mobile became a primary video viewing device when our millennials were crowded out of the optimal viewing space – the lounge. In their own rooms they resorted to second choice devices. Use of ‘broadcast’ linear – viewed off an aerial or dish – in this context was very low. This reflects the basic infrastructure of viewers’ homes in the UK at the moment.

Access to broadcast TV outside the lounge is limited. Where it exists it is most often to a Freeview device with little ‘youth viewing’ available. In pay homes, almost no young people have multi-room in their bedrooms – and therefore no access to the live/linear channels targeted at them. If they couldn’t watch their show on the big screen, the small one had to make do, and so mobile is most often a fall-back, not a first choice.

Food for thought

As a group who define television in the broadest of terms and engage with video content in a variety of formats, contexts and devices, broadcasters need to recognise and adapt to their varying habits – whether that’s taking advantage of the big screen as a portal for more OTT and VoD content, or changing tact when it comes to weekend watching scheduling. This presents the industry with plenty of scope to innovate.

As part of Arqiva’s ongoing focus on service excellence we are seeking to gain insights into the changing world that our broadcast customers are grappling with. Read more about Arqiva’s Millennials Research Project whitepaper here.


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