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Millennials Find YouTube Content More Entertaining, Relatable Than TV: Study

Younger audiences watch more hours of video on YouTube and other digital outlets than TV — simply because they find it more enjoyable and relevant to their lives, according to a new study.

Consumers aged 13-24 spend 11.3 hours weekly watching free online video compared with 8.3 hours for regularly scheduled TV, according to a study conducted in the fall of 2014 by Hunter Qualitative Research commissioned by digital-media firm Defy Media.

A major factor driving Internet-video consumption among millennials, per the study: 62% of survey respondents said digital content makes them “feel good” about themselves vs. 40% reported for TV. According to the survey, 67% of millennials said digital delivers content they can relate to vs. 41% for TV, and 66% said they turn to digital content to relax vs. 47% for TV.

Younger viewers connect more strongly with YouTube and other digital-native content because it feels more real than what’s produced for TV, Defy Media president Keith Richman said. “Digital video is not as canned — it makes millennials feel better about who they are,” he said.

A big caveat: The study was paid for by Defy Media, which produces content for YouTube and other outlets aimed squarely at millennial audiences — so the company has an interest in proving teens and young adults prefer its style of entertainment.

But many other research studies have found that millennials, in particular, are watching less TV as they tune in to YouTube and other digital-native content.

Indeed, big-name YouTubers and other digital stars are more popular among teens than traditional Hollywood and music celebs, according to a survey Variety commissioned last summer. The five most influential figures among Americans ages 13-18 are all YouTube creators, led by comedy duo Smosh (produced by Defy Media), The Fine Bros. and PewDiePie, topping affinity scores for the likes of Jennifer Lawrence and Katy Perry.

Defy’s study found similar results. Among the 13-17 segment, 32% responded they are more likely to look up to a YouTube personality over traditional celebrities, while those 18-24 set reported a slightly higher affinity toward TV and movie stars (36%) over YouTubers (26%). When asked whether YouTube stars could be successful TV or movie stars, 69% of respondents 13-17 agreed.

Affinity for YouTubers extends to purchasing influence, the Defy study found. About 63% of millennials (respondents 13-24) said they would try a product or brand recommended by a YouTube personality, versus only 48% who said the same about a TV or movie star.

Meanwhile, 76% of the survey’s respondents said videos on YouTube and similar sites are “entertaining” compared with 55% for free online TV offerings from broadcast and cable networks. And 63% said TV has too many ads, compared with 41% who said the same for Internet content.

The study also examined what makes millennials actually click through to view a video (content dubbed “thumb-stoppers”). Among the findings: 59% of thumb-stoppers are videos “liked” or viewed by a lot of people and 58% was content posted by “someone I respect.” And whereas YouTube content has its roots in do-it-yourself production values, more millennials are being drawn in by professionally produced content: For 13-17-year-olds, 46% are more likely to open content that looks professional and polished, and 57% of those 18-24 said they are.

“Things that stop your thumb-swiping are things that your friends are liking and things that are professionally produced,” Richman said.

The Defy-sponsored study was conducted in the fall of 2014 by Hunter Qualitative Research. The research firm conducted a two-week online forum with 18 “buddy pairs” (36 total) of consumers 13-24 who were diverse in terms of ethnicity, race, income and parents’ educational level. All lived in the Atlanta, Los Angeles or Minneapolis metro areas. Participants gave access to their social media feeds for observation of content received and shared. Those interviews were followed by an online survey of 1,350 U.S. consumers 13-24, with a sample representative of the general population.

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