How To Find Millennials On TV

Josh Brentan

Marketing Strategist

Millennials account for one-fourth of the US population—a larger percentage than the Baby Boomers, and 3x larger than GenX. They have as much, if not more, spending power than any other generation—and on top of that, many of them are just getting started. It’s no wonder, then, that finding a way to connect with this notoriously fickle generation has become an imperative for most marketers.

If you were to just read the headlines, it’d be easy to think that Millennials aren’t watching TV at all and that they can be found almost exclusively on digital. Were this true, it’d be unfortunate for marketers on many levels—not least of which is that the scale of digital is dwarfed by that of television, and that marketers could be more easily held hostage by the price increases resulting from digital advertising consolidation.

Nearly 25% of Americans don't even have the ability to be reached by digital video advertising

But the truth of the matter is that Millennials do watch television. An analysis of Nielsen All Minute Respondent Level Data (AMRLD) for the first 10 months of 2017 reveals that the average Millennial watched 2.8 hours of TV per day. That’s less than the older demographics, which is consistent with the media narrative. Millennials with kids, however, watched 3 hours per day, and Millennials who lived alone watched 3.6 hours per day. What’s more, Millennials still spend more time watching TV per day than almost anything else aside from sleep and work.

Bar chart showing how Millennials spend their time.

So why do so many advertisers admit that they’re having a hard time finding Millennials on TV? It has to do with severe limitations in how TV media is commonly bought and sold.

Millennials Are Not A Demo

TV advertising has been bought and sold in basically the same way for decades, and its success is mostly measured in impressions delivered against an age/gender demographic and at a target price. This is inefficient for reaching Millennials for two reasons.

Firstly, Millennials are commonly defined as an age group born between 1981 and 2000, which means they’re now between 21 and 37 years old. This age range doesn’t fit the standard TV advertising demos. The closest would be Adults 18-34, but not all networks sell advertising against that demo. The more common age ranges are Adults 18-49 and Adults 25-54.

Secondly, as noted above, while Millennials do watch a lot of TV, they also watch relatively less of it than people in older age cohorts, which means impressions available to reach Millennials are naturally fewer. This is problematic because traditional TV advertising practices place equal value on each impression delivered to the standard demo audience, regardless of whether it reaches the targeted Millennial or not. A campaign targeting Millennials could deliver its goal of 50 GRPs, but if 70% of the impressions were served to non-Millennials, does that make the campaign successful?

Thirty years ago, the way impressions were valued didn’t matter as much because there were only about 30 channels and brands had the potential to reach millions of people in their target audience with any given spot. Today, the average TV viewing household gets 200 channels and the TV audience is more distributed than ever, but the average media plan still only runs on about 20 networks. As a result, even if campaigns are still hitting their GRP targets, they’re doing so by increasing the frequency, not total reach. And given the relative scarcity of Millennial viewers compared to other age cohorts, this makes it even less likely that brands are reaching enough Millennials on TV to move the needle.

Target Audiences, Not Demographics

Take the example of a 22 year old woman living a post-college, urban existence with roommates and a starter-salary. For all intents and purposes, she is an entirely different audience than a 32 year old woman who is married with two children and owns a home—yet they’re both considered Millennials. They key to reaching them on TV is to treat them like people, not a demo.

How does one do this? Through targeting based on existing customer data. This technology is available for TV today, enabling brands to target new customers based on the profiles they’ve created of their existing customers—including their purchasing behavior, interests, and the shows they like to watch. With the right platform, marketers can leverage this information to target their Millennial audience more precisely than ever.

Reaching More Millennials Requires Technology

Simulmedia’s VAMOS platform offers a solution. Using the above example, let’s say you wanted to target Millennial moms who have kids and own a home. VAMOS can either combine multiple 3rd party data sets, or use your brand’s proprietary 1st party data to match customer attributes with viewing data from millions of households.

In doing so, VAMOS can understand the viewing behaviors of your target audience, and then uses a patented predictive algorithm to forecast what each member of that audience will be watching during the flight of a given campaign. The resulting media plan—often containing thousands of spots across 50 or more networks—is designed to maximize your target-audience reach in a way that no human could calculate.

Are targeted CPMs generally more expensive? Yes, but in the end it comes down to how you value the impressions you deliver. Already today, some of the world’s savviest advertisers agree it’s worth paying a little more to reach a lot more of their audience while reducing impressions that could be considered wasteful. If you’re trying to reach the one group with the most collective spending power in the United States, then this is best way to do it.


Contrary to popular belief, Millennials watch a lot of TV. The reason brands have so much trouble reaching them is that media buying simply hasn’t evolved to reflect the change in the audience’s viewing behavior. By targeting age/gender demos and not understanding what makes up the GRPs a campaign delivers, marketers are doing themselves a disservice.

To paraphrase the Constitution, we hold this truth to be self evident: not all Millennials are created equal. Nor should brands treat them as such. By targeting based on individual behaviors and preferences, not only will marketers be able to reach more of their target audience, they’ll be able to reach the seemingly elusive age group that will be powering the economic engine of the country for years to come.

Contact us to see how our VAMOS platform can help you reach more of your target audience.

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