Upfronts 2016: Numbers Show Millennials Abandoning Broadcast Networks

Defections come in both live and delayed viewing, with ABC the hardest hit

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.

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.

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.

Read more at broadcastingcable.com.