The Millennial generation of consumers born between 1980 and 1995 is leading a dramatic shift away from TV viewing and toward engaging in all kinds of activity on the smartphone. The shift in behavior by the first truly digital generation requires rethinking brand marketing and retail engagement strategies.

Dallas Lawrence, chief communications and brand officer, OpenX

Dallas Lawrence, chief communications and brand officer, OpenX

Much is written these days about what the future holds for the first truly digital generation of consumers as they begin to see their combined buying power reshape the consumer landscape.

The Millennial generation, born between 1980 and 1995, represents more than a half trillion dollars in combined spending in the US each year. Yet, despite their growing economic prominence and burgeoning share of the retail wallet, the way they consume content, shape purchasing intent and ultimately spend hundreds of billions of dollars is only just now beginning to impact the overall consumer landscape. New research out this month, however, shows that the long established paradigms in brand marketing and retail engagement are now poised for a powerful generational shift that will introduce new challenges and opportunities to reach and engage the world’s largest generation in an increasingly fragmented media world.

OpenX recently partnered with The Harris Poll to release the results of an in-depth analysis into Millennial content consumption habits and shopping patterns, offering a new blueprint for brand marketers seeking to engage this always connected generation.

79% of Millennials are on their phone for at least 3 hours a day.

No Surprise: For Millennials, TV is Dead

Millennial engagement with live television has reached historic lows. 41% of Millennials watch no live television weekly. Let that metric sink in. Nearly half of all Millennial consumers have tuned out completely from a medium that brands spend hundreds of billions of dollars to advertise on. Lest we think perhaps the remaining cohort are reachable, fully 73% of all Millennials report watching a total of zero television commercials when they do engage with traditional television programming, opting to record their favorite shows or watch through ad-free subscription services like Hulu or Netflix.


Some TV hardliners may still be holding out hope that with new programming or engaging live content Millennials may be lured back to the good old days of commercial television. Yet the research shows that not only have Millennials tuned out, but they have unplugged completely, with a third having already cut the cable cord.

It Is A Mobile Generation

The news that the prominence of TV is waning is not earth-shattering. In fact, in 2017 digital advertising overtook television advertising for the first time in overall size.  What is changing now is how exactly the always connected digital consumer is engaging with content today.  Mobile advertising is poised to become the largest slice of the marketing pie in the US this year, and Millennials are forging this changed landscape.

79% of Millennials are on their phone for at least 3 hours a day and more than a third are engaged for far greater times—at least 6 hours each and every day.


The phone has become so ubiquitous to the daily lives of Millennials that it has replaced nearly every other device. It is where they go to play games, listen to music, watch streaming video content, find dates, book travel and engage in social media.  For many it has become their new TV, laptop, iPad and game console all rolled into one device that never leaves their side (not even in bed where the strong majority of Millennials report being on their phone late into the night—every single night—playing games, reading news, snacking on video content and making billions of dollars in purchases).

To be sure, the sea change in content consumption and consumer habits ushered in by the Millennial mobile revolution is not just contained to those clocking in between the ages of 20 to 35.  Research shows the trends their usage habits have heralded are sweeping across nearly every age and income demographic.  60% of all US adults now spend at least 3 hours per day engaging with content on their connected devices—on a weekly basis they now spend more than twice as much time on mobile as they do watching broadcast television.  Even Baby Boomers have caught up to the mobile trend splitting their time evenly between mobile and television.

A Shift in Shopping Patterns

The accelerated shift to mobile content consumption and overall device usage among Millennials has also spurred a significant shift in shopping patterns. Most consumers 18-35 are making multiple mobile purchases each week.  Many are shopping every single day from their connected device.


The generational shift we are seeing today, away from television towards mobile, is representative of a larger shift we’re seeing in media and advertising overall. And this change is apparent everywhere we look. Netflix won 23 Emmys last week, showing that “premium TV” is not the TV we previously knew. Apple released a smartphone that cost $1,500 dollars, a price higher than most laptops or televisions, and for the most part no one batted an eye.

Millennials are at the heart of this shift, and with millennials being the group that has more discretionary income than anyone, the stakes for businesses are clear. Understand how this group likes to spend their time, or risk falling behind and missing out on the next big wave of shopping.

OpenX is a programmatic advertising technology company.