30 MAR 2023

Have Gen Z and Millennials already abandoned linear TV?

While the traditional TV audience is mostly made up of Gen Xers and baby boomers, pay TV still regularly reaches younger consumers, albeit to a lesser degree, according to a new report from Morning Consult.

30 MAR 2023

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While the traditional TV audience is mostly made up of Gen Xers and baby boomers, pay TV still regularly reaches younger consumers, albeit to a lesser degree, according to a new report from Morning Consult, which also highlights that most linear TV viewers have at least one video streaming subscription, and many of them regularly make trips to the movies.

“These habits indicate that media companies need to more effectively leverage their linear TV assets - by airing video streaming originals on traditional TV, for example, or developing television shows into theatrical IP. For brands, this means not pulling back spending on traditional TV too heavily, even as streaming rise,”  the report says.

While 65% of self-reported daily traditional TV viewers in February were Gen Xers or baby boomers, Morning Consult’s data shows that a sizable share of younger viewers still watch linear TV. It also points to what other consumer types the legacy medium reaches. For example, 35% of those who said they watched traditional TV daily in February were Gen Z adults or Millennials.

Despite skewing older, traditional TV still has incredible reach overall, as evidenced by the 41% of US adults who watched it daily in February and the 62% who used it at all that month. This sheer scale explains why linear TV is still regularly reaching some Gen Zers and Millennials, despite younger adults’ growing affinity for digital entertainment.

Over a quarter of Gen Z adults (27%) said they watched live TV daily in February via a cable or satellite TV subscription, while 34% of Millennials said the same. These shares are lower than the comparable shares of Gen Xers (38%) and baby boomers (54%), but they still represent sizable portions of younger consumers that brands might not already be reaching through digital media.

While traditional TV is favored most by Gen Xers and baby boomers, the enduring massive scale of linear TV means brands, film studios and game companies should still be able to use it to supplement their reach among their target demographic. After all, Morning Consult data shows Gen Zers and Millennials are more likely to be video streaming service subscribers and moviegoers relative to their older counterparts. Additionally, 78% of adults who watched linear TV daily in February have at least one video streaming subscription, while 40% of those watching TV that often went to the movies at least once that month.

Morning Consult data also highlights the opportunity for media conglomerates to lean more heavily on TV shows for theatrical film IP, given how willing younger viewers of linear TV are to frequent cinemas. For example, Paramount’s “Yellowstone” accounted for six of the top 100 most-watched primetime broadcasts of 2022, hinting at the strong box office potential of a film based on the franchise.

But the fact that traditional TV is disproportionately favored by Gen Xers and baby boomers can also be a positive for media companies looking to boost streaming viewership. Morning Consult believes that media giants should use traditional platforms to expose Gen Xers and baby boomers to marquee streaming programming that they might not otherwise be aware of due to their devotion to pay TV. For example, Disney has embraced this strategy with “Andor” and “The Mandalorian” before that, and will start airing episodes of the Hulu original “How I Met Your Father” on its Freeform cable channel next month.


While cross-pollination of the same IP across linear and streaming can boost programs’ ultimate ad revenue and reach, this would also stoke consumer demand. In March, 55% of all adults who watched linear TV in the past month said they are very or somewhat interested in seeing original programming from video streaming services on traditional TV channels, while the comparable shares of all other generations were close to 50% or higher.

“The key, as with all else in the media business, is to capitalize on these consumer trends without overdoing it. While our data suggests there is room for more traditional TV networks to trim their programming slates in favor of fewer hits, going all-in on this strategy would likely drive some viewers away from traditional TV. Moreover, media companies canot run entire seasons of all their marquee streaming service originals on their traditional TV networks, as this would undercut the value of paying for video streaming subscriptions,”  the report notes.

According to Morning Consult, although consumption of linear TV is still robust, it will only decline in reach in the years ahead, particularly among younger consumers - meaning its ability to act as an accelerant to streaming and box office revenue will steadily deteriorate, too. "Companies should consider the guidance above to maximize their benefits from the traditional medium while it is still reaching over 40% of adults daily,"  the report conludes.