The Walking Dead

Millennials are increasingly giving up on TV shows when they become difficult to access, even if they’ve already invested heavily in watching previous seasons. That’s the finding of a recent survey conducted by TiVo, which discovered that this demographic frequently abandons programs—regardless of whether they originated from network, cable, premium, or digital-only providers. So while viewers might binge-watch five seasons of The Walking Dead, if they can’t easily get the next season, they’ll bounce faster than Daryl riding out of Rick’s camp, Negan be damned.

For those of us reared in the modest confines of network television, this may feel counterintuitive; content is inarguably more available now than it’s ever been. And TiVo found that their millennial respondents spend a quarter of each day watching television. But for younger viewers, this bounty of content riches has also spawned a tyranny of choice.

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“The media industry is facing a perfect storm with increased choice and access to content, at the cost of massive fragmentation and frustrated consumers,” said Paul Stathacopoulos, TiVo’s vice president of strategy and strategic research. “The coveted millennial demographic is in the eye of this storm, consuming the most content across the most services and platforms. However, members of this generation have short attention spans, and they are the most likely to ‘show dump’ when access to content becomes challenging. These are cautionary signs for content owners who rely on loyalty and continued engagement to rationalize and realize returns on their investments in creative properties.”

TiVo’s findings include some very detailed and illuminating specifics on relative viewing behavior between millennials and baby boomers:

  • 54 percent of millennials have “show dumped” a program they previously enjoyed due to accessibility, in contrast to 17 percent of boomers
  • 55 percent would pay to simplify search across platforms
  • 43 percent of millennials use voice commands every day where only 8 percent of boomers feel comfortable enough with the technology to do the same
  • and 46 percent of millennials feel extremely frustrated when they cannot easily find and access the programs they want to watch, in contrast to just 20 percent of boomers

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There’s a lot to unpack here, but TiVo’s findings suggest that when a generation is groomed to expect on-demand content, and then that content fails to be made accessible, it shouldn’t be surprising when those viewers jump ship. And as the definitions between content creators and distributors are muddied and costs fragment, it’s unrealistic to expect viewers to exhibit the kind of loyalties shown to the sponsor-financed network triumvirate of television’s past.

So while it’s easy to dismiss the fickle nature of young whippersnappers as the harbinger of western civilization’s decline, there’s a lot of blame resting on media trends, providers, and the overall industry growing pains as we shift away from the cable-and-DVR-dominated landscape of the previous decades.

These numbers suggests that it’s not the innate whimsy and capriciousness of millennials driving the trends of show dumping; rather, they’d pay for a solution that could keep them up to date. One statistic that isn’t captured here is the relative tendency for viewers to return to a show once it becomes available, such as when that hypothetical season of The Walking Dead premieres on Netflix a year later. And while it would have been interesting to gauge the behavior of the generation that pioneered pirating content, generation X was probably too occupied with its battle for dominance to respond.

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