News & Insights

Millennials Are Watching, Just Maybe Not What You’d Expect

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There’s no shortage of studies telling brands and communications professionals ‘what millennials are like,’ and how to reach us with their content.

We’re skeptical of advertising, with only 1 percent of us saying a compelling campaign would make us more trusting of a brand. Instead, we look to social media, viewing it as a more authentic take from our peers on products and news stories. Studies have also shown we tend to find news in nontraditional ways, discovering it mostly within our social circles, as opposed to seeking it out directly from outlets because we also don’t trust traditional institutions, especially the media.

One thing might trump this distrust – people also agree we millennials are deeply concerned with the world around us, including the largest issues affecting our generation like immigration and climate change. That might be one reason why new data show we’re, somewhat surprisingly, watching more cable news, with huge viewership increases across most major networks. According to Nielsen, compared to the same period in 2015, Fox’s numbers are up 250 percent, CNN increased their millennial viewers from 34,800 to 62,900 (out of Nielsen’s 100,000 person panel, used to measure the ratings), a 80 percent jump, and MSNBC reached 35,900 in the first quarter versus 20,400 two years earlier, for an increase of 76 percent. To be fair, cable news networks are bringing in larger ratings across the board right now, but it’s worth noting broadcast and general cable networks are losing millennial viewers at the same time. Those declines are often justified by our status as the first generation of true digital natives, who supposedly consume media in vastly different ways.

But this is no ordinary time. In 2009, the biggest story surrounding the new presidential administration was an economy on the brink of collapse. Today, human rights and social justice are the lead story, with a powerful resistance movement underway across the country beginning to activate in growing numbers. As this continues to dominate newscasts, it’s clear millennials will be watching. These numbers shouldn’t be ignored. Instead, they should serve as a reminder that in today’s media climate, we need to constantly rethink how to reach this key audience.

Emily Beyer is a Senior Associate for Communications, who watched cable news before it was cool.

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