Trying to Pin Down the Mosaic of Millennial Tastes

May 16, 2016 · 69 comments
OSS Architect (California)
The context here is that millennials are treated as a "market". Yes, just like every generation before it, but they truly understand when they are being manipulated and marketed to. They grew up learning how to up their own Facebook Likes.

How to raise the number of their twitter followers, and get more hits in whatever social platforms they use. They don't like to be "targeted", just as prior generations did. Being keenly aware of how marketing is done, how memes are created, how big data labels everyone in every dimension that can be measured, they rebel.

There is a definite "creep factor' to being "micro-targeted", and a sense that spending 100's of millions of dollars to convince you to buy something is probably evil.

Not to worry, advertisers are learning how to make "peer to peer" selling work. Kids, learn how to monetize your Facebook account. it's worth more than you think...
Eduardo (Los Angeles)
“What unites our shows is that they center around young people in an adult world that revolves around them and that they have the power to shape,” Mr. Ascheim said.

Sure, but they don't know enough about that world to comprehend what shaping it means and they are citizen slackers who voted for Obama and then checked out, leaving conservative voters to destroy responsible governance by voting for very conservative ideological purists. Millennials may not fit a stereotype, but they also don't seem actually engaged in the real world.

Bernie Sanders isn't going to accomplish anything that millennials are supporting him for because they haven't actually been doing anything of value for the greater good. It's all about them, and they miss how little that's going to mean in the future if they don't become involved in the establishment they seem to have little regard for.

Millennials may want to shape the world, but they're not off to a good start at it. The system is changed from the inside, not the outside. "All about me" won't change anything.

Eclectic Pragmatist —
Eclectic Pragmatist —
Will S (Berkeley, CA)
As you allude to in the article, it's completely unfair to "lump together" 80 million people in this country. But as a person under 30, I can tell you this about most people my age: We've been marketed to all our lives. From the time we were old enough to speak, we were being coerced into begging our parents for the useless junk that was peddled to us on TV. I hope that by now, we're wise enough to scrutinize how and why we're being marketed to, and smart enough not to take the bait.
George (Central NJ)
I'm a baby boomer. I don't have a clue about using streaming services, Hulu, Netflix or what they even are. I use cable. Someone write a simple how-to article explaining what they are, how much they cost and how to get/use these services.
Wendi (Chico, CA)
Now you can watch TV on your own terms. On Demand or binge on one show. You can watch sports from 4 different angles without commercials. I would be difficult to target any audience with all this choice provided to the viewers. I remember when you couldn't tape your favorite show. Watching "Roots" was an event like the Superbowl where you had food and drinks and made a night of it, because if you didn't watch it when it was broadcast, you missed it.
Casey (Memphis,TN)
The use on the generational term, "millennial", is a stereotype, and like all stereotypes it is invalid.
Robert Coane (US Refugee CANADA)
Born in 1945, I'm no millennial, but 10 years ago we gave up TV. My wife and I rediscovered each other, intimacy, our Dogs, reading, conversation, common goals and aspirations, awareness, sensitivity, personal discernment, cooking, the outdoor b-b-q, aperitifs, companionship at meals, games, music, silence, the fireplace in winter, the view from our deck in summer, togetherness and sharing life's most fleeting moments, life itself.

We experienced the end of inanity, meaningless/mindless chatter, vacuous entertainment, digested and regurgitated misinformation, the lowest common denominators of understanding, social isolation, frivolity, harebrained distraction, boredom.

What mosaic? Mosaics are vibrant – the idiot box, static, vapid.

“Young people haven’t accomplished much yet so they can only elevate themselves by endlessly celebrating their own superior sensibilities.”
The Heyday of Snobbery
NYTimes, Nov 16, 2006

In THE SPECTACLE OF SKILL, his unfinished 2nd memoir, Robert Hughes quotes the Roman poet Ovid's warning 2,000 years before TV's invention: "Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor" – "I see and approve of the better, but I follow the worse."

More, I have not watched a film – another equally numbing, faux experience – on any medium since Oct. 2004.

We miss nothing. There was nothing there of any value to miss.

"I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book." ~ GROUCHO MARX
Ben S. (New York Area)
The thing that I find fascinating about these "Millennials" articles is what it says about the people who write them. Do older Gen Xers or Boomers like to think of themselves in terms of a single, homogeneous generation, with no differentiating factors amongst individuals? Of course not. And yet they are continually shocked when Millennials (a term virtually never used by us) are fully formed individuals, with individual tastes and likes, rather than a large number of copies from the same mold.

It takes a certain kind of hubris to define one's own individuality as being somehow unique, with all other types of people being essentially the same. And yet that's the theme that runs through these articles.

Enough with the whining about us already. Please, please, for all our sakes, find another topic.
Casey (New York, NY)
Based on the advertising, the only folks who watch "TV" have major medical problems. Kinda depressing. Keep the FF button handy.

Younger folks watch a lot of TV. It is all on demand, mostly on a Computer Screen, not a wall set. There is no "off the air", or "pay cable TV company". If it isn't legally available, I don't know anyone who still can't find it...... When they get together to "watch TV", it just means that the computer is hooked to a big screen TV, but it is still streamed or recorded on demand...

The TV industry is like copper wire phone or the newspaper publishing business. I had to explain to teens what the major networks were all about, how they were huge gatekeepers, and took themselves very seriously. Joke news was a big deal when it first came out...not like today where we get our news FROM the joke news shows...
Nick Metrowsky (Longmont, Colorado)
Growing up with TV, starting in the early 1960s, what i can say is that as the channels increased, the variety and watchability has decreased. Ratings are down in all age groups, no just the 21 - 39 target age group. Too many commercials, less and less content. Why watch hours of commercials, when you can go to Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, etc. And, there are apps like Pluto which server over 100 channels, including a 24 hour MSTK3 channel

The decision are being made by aging baby boomers who are living in teh 1980s TV era.

In my case, I grew up, on Long Island, in the 1960s. There was more content aimed at a diverse audience on the seven New York City channels, then what is not well over 200. One of my favoriets was "Million Dollar Movie" on Channel 9. My favorite channel now si TCM; mainly because of uncut, no-commercial movies. For channels, which run ads, I record and skip through 20 minutes per hour of ads; way up from the 8 minutes per hour in the 1960s.

Millennials, are not the only group who are embracing alternatives. TV executives just do not see what is in demand, hint "Masterpiece" and "Game of Thrones" attract viewers because there are no ads. And the same goes for most streaming services. The days of "Brought to you by X" is no longer a working model. And the only thing TV is really good for is live events like news, entertainment events or sports.
hen3ry (New York)
I hope that some of this generation defies explanation the same way some of the baby boom did. All those ads they threw at us since we were kids were a waste once I got to adulthood. I ignored them and I continue to because most of them are vacuous, don't appeal to me, aren't even intelligent, and are a huge annoying interruption. All that music and ads in the stores are background noise that leave me thinking twice before I shop for clothes, shoes, books, etc. By constantly pitching ads at us, some of us have rebelled by avoiding malls, big box stores, shopping during the holidays, or shopping at all unless we really need something. I'm sure that succeeding generations will be worse because ads have penetrated further into our lives.
William Case (Texas)
People who crave novelty and individual experiences look for it on their television sets? That's weird.
S. Maeve (NYC)
The people I know in this age group don't watch TV at all. They're too busy working and going to school. I'm older and watch TV.
Full Name (U.S.)
First off, the Millennials don't extend to those in their late 30s. Second, maybe the bigger question is why would a group of largely underpaid people would agree to the pay the thousands of dollars a year it takes for cable that their parents did when they can get it all for free with the internet connection they feel is a necessity. They aren't limited by their financial choices like previous generations, so of course their tastes are all over the map. Beyond that, they are an infinite variety of ways to waste your time after work instead of just watching the 5 channels you have on your tv, so again, of course they engage in a variety of activities that involve staring at screens. The story isn't that their behavior makes them different, it is that the world they know is different than previous generations, therefore they interact with it differently. No big mystery.
Reid (New York)
Millennial here.

The term Millennial is infuriating, patronizing, and has evolved in a way that it now insinuates condescension. Is that a Millennial thing to say? Am I just an egotistical, coddled, special snowflake, thus I am obliged to reject being lumped into a group?

No. "Millennials" are humans just like everybody else, but just a little younger, and a little bit more comfortable with the current technology.

Here is the important part though, now that most "Millennials" have jobs and a little spare cash to spend (once they pay off their student debts of course), TV execs want their slice of the income pie, but they have been too slow to properly monetize the rapid advance of technology and video streaming services. The term "Millennial" was likely created by marketers/producers/advertisers that told their TV brand clients that they have the key to unlocking the 20-30 something's cash flow.

How about this: Focus on good storytelling and less on demographics. Stories are a human fascination that is as old as living in caves and sitting around campfires. So despite the cliché discussion about Millennials and their cultural foreignness...a generation from the hipster binge-watching future, one shouldn't be surprised to find that young people are human too.

Condé Nast, Verizon, and Hearst are asking the wrong questions, and any Millennial will tell you the answer is definitely not "Millennials from the heartland."
These days (or perhaps over the past ten years), in many travel related articles and reviews there is always included the ubiquitous coffee/wine/microbrewery related palaver. As if people floated around the world just to sample caffeine and booze alone. Tired of that suggestion in most of what passes as travel writing these days. Like kids reviewing pool slides, playgrounds and the children's menus.
And enough of the quirky 'boutique' hotel experiences-ugh.
Methinks childhood is being too expanded. Like seeing grown men carrying skateboards and razor scooters. Anything serious adult related can be scratched from these marketer's evaluations.
theWord3 (Hunter College)
Crave novelty and individual experiences and who do not want to be a part of the herd? Are you kidding? The Millennials enrolling in my classes do not want to be identified as "not being part of the herd" but they certainly want to know, 24/7, which way the herd is herding?
Renee Jones (Lisbon)
I don't know what I am more sick of: the term "millennial" or the phrase "tech start-up."

Orienting everything to hipsters is just so tiresome. Enough already.
I have two adult millennial children and have been observing them and others of their generation for 30 years; they're not unique, they're like every other generation: spending all their time trying not to be their parents.
Becky (Boston)
Congratulations to Sarah Lyall for a great story!!!!!!
Sam (Massachusetts)
The understatement throughout this article is very well done.
Andy (Salt Lake City, UT)
I find the best representation of millennial media consumption comes from the movie "Hackers". There's a scene where two characters break into the broadcast network and battle over what bad programs/movies they feel like watching at the moment. Add a mobile aspect, the random word-of-mouth factor, and some wiki/imdb fact-checking; you pretty much got it.

Personally, I cut the cable back in 2006 (I think?) and would never dream of going back. My "TV" is essentially an oversized computer monitor with a library of favorites. I keep a digital antenna for the occasional (very occasional) live broadcast. Otherwise, I mostly prefer a book (print not tablet) or use the setup for music.

As for Netflix, Hulu, and others, they're convenient but rarely worth the time. They mostly have main-stream titles I'll never invest the time to become invested-in. I appreciate the odd documentary otherwise hard to come by but that's about it. Every once in awhile they'll pull up an old cult favorite like "They Live" or something similar.

For the most part though, who cares about new programming? I'd rather spend the cost of a subscription on beer and bowling.
hguy (nyc)
People don't fundamentally change from one generation to another, nor can any one generation be put into neat little compartments. Madison Avenue won't accept this because of its addiction to metrics and the belief, dating back to Auguste Comte, that human behavior can be measured and quantified.
another millennial (Atlanta)
Mr. Szypko claims millennials "chafe" at "the sense the sense that other people are curating things for them," when surely he's aware that many millennial "creatives" strive for and embrace the title of curator--be it curating the arts, curating events, or curating consumption itself. The current artisanal economy/community is practically fixated on curation.
Michael (Augusta, GA)
I have three millennials - two sons ages 29 and 30, and one daughter age 25.
I fail to understand their taste in tv, but then, of course, I'm a Baby Boomer. My daughter loves "Girls." My sons love "Family Guy." My 28 year-old loves Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell. I don't appreciate the sloppy sex, the nudity, and the put-downs in so much of today's tv shows and movies. I guess I'm a bit of a prude.
Ruralist (Upstate NY)
How do you feel about the way your age group is portrayed on network TV shows? Are you any less annoyed than the millennials in the story, or have you long ago stopped expecting them to reflect you?
dapperdan37 (Fayetteville, ar)
Hey they can watch the same garbage as the rest of us
Sasha Love (Austin TX)
I'm not a Millenial but I see very little on network and cable TV that represents me - namely middle aged and up females. The Good Wife is gone and the networks as of today have killed off 16 lesbian and female bisexual characters since January 2016 (I am also queer.) CBS just passed on the reboot of Nancy Drew despite great audience testing because it was deemed too 'female' by the network execs (50 percent of the people who loved the show were female). CBS also got rid of Supergirl and moved it to their lesser network, the CW, and I expect for the same reason. NBC passed on terrific The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, despite being produced and written by Tina Fey. It seems to me that the vast majority of American TV networks (and film studios) just don't like women.

To find diversity stories, well-written and compelling characters, and female representation, the best place to see that appears to be Netflix, followed by Amazon Prime. Even the cable networks lack diversity (women in lead roles, persons of color, and the LGBTQ.) I stopped watching over a dozen network and cable TV shows this year because they completely failed in having any strong female representation who had compelling storylines. Network and cable stations failure to represent half the country (females) is not only bad for the audience, but bad to their bottom line. And the blame is squarely on the white males who are the studio execs, showrunners, and producers who make these male oriented shows.
blueberryintomatosoup (Houston, TX)
If you like mystery/cop/lawyer/crime dramas, check out Acorn. It mostly has shows from the UK, some from Canada, Australia and New Zeland, and a sprinkling of foreign language shows. Many of the crime dramas (which is what I watch) have strong female leads. These shows, generally, have few shoot-em-up and explosion scenes (most cops don't even carry guns), not much fouls language and an occasional sex scene. They have other types of shows also from those countries. It's a subscription based streaming service.
mike (Brooklyn)
What seems more likely: a vast white male conspiracy, or the fact that advertisers weren't interested in paying enough to make the shows profitable?
Vicki (Grand Rapids)
I remember the first Values and Lifestyles (VALS) categories we used for audience segmentation included an 18-24-year-old group called "I Am Me." I always thought this segment name was perfect because it included the ages where people step away from high school cliques and their parents, establish their individualism, and strive to be uniquely unique!
We've changed the name of this segment several times, but this life stage has always been the same - throughout all the "generations."
T. Malone Chandler (New York)
Judging by the photograph of the Williamsburg loft-- vinyl record, old film cameras, ironic stuffed deer head, and the inescapable ukulele-- all that aggressive idiosyncrasy is ordered straight from the Urban Outfitters catalog.
Johnny Gray (Oregon)
Many of my friends had deer or elk heads at their houses growing up. Of course, growing up in rural Oregon, someone in that family had shot that elk or deer, and had the pantry full of smoked venison to prove it.

What the heck would a stuffed trophy head be doing in Brooklyn? Perhaps I am going out on a limb here, but I would be surprised if any of the people pictured in that loft had bagged that deer or elk personally.
Incredulosity (Astoria)
Try telling interesting stories in artistically inspired ways. That's what viewers want.
Andy (Salt Lake City, UT)
Sounds like a PBS or NPR program. ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX? Not so much.
david Brandt (croton ny)
The problem is that this is not about trying to understand who they are (although they are really all unique) It is really about trying to figure out how to get their money.
dapperdan37 (Fayetteville, ar)
You sir are correct!
Reid (New York)
Hit the nail on the head! I think the correct amendment to your point is: "It is really about trying to figure out how to get them to pay for cable instead of their student loans."
dve commenter (calif)
Probably once someone puts a name to something intended to attract a group, that is going to be an instant fail---since by the title of this article, they are hard to pin down as to their tastes. I actually suspect that may not be so when programs like NCIS are in the 5000th episode. A person could meet their future mate, get married, have children and then divorce and these programs are still running. I doubt that the "the greatest generation" is watching much of this stuff. We're the Ed Sullivan folks--you know, where there was really something to watch--not 1 one show re-written a thousand times.
It is insulting to pigeon-hole people so someone can money. The minute someone says I have some for Swahili-speaking Irish Jews, I'm out of here. Put out the best entertainment or whatever and if people flock to it like honeybees to apricot seeds, you've found your audience.
Ize (NJ)
My 90 year old dad, part of "the greatest generation" a WWII air-force veteran, still loves and watches anything NCIS. Despite hating his long trip to and from Guam via the US Navy. It remains a puzzle.
Peki (Copenhagen)
I hope this settles it, and we don't have to read any more articles about what 80 million people between the ages of 20 and 40 want: many different things. Only a marketing exec could find this an endlessly curious puzzle. The rest of us (Millenials, too) are bored to tears of the subject.
Early Retirement, MD (SF Bay Area)
The real irony here is that millennials all think they are special and unique when they all end up dressing the same and doing and buying the exact same things. That is what marketers are trying to figure out. Carry on precious little snowflakes. Big business played Gen X and the baby boomers. Why do the millennials think they will be any different?
Andy (Salt Lake City, UT)
Millennials don't buy things in predictable ways from centralized sources. That tattoo sleeve at the local parlor? The fixed-gear made from spare parts at the bike co-op? The undercut done at a friend's apartment? Community garden or CSA? How about the overwhelming statistical evidence that millennials prefer to spend on experiences rather material possessions?

Makes for a marketing conundrum, doesn't it?
Abby (Pleasant Hill, CA)
Your comment reinforces the idea that Millennials think they are special and unique but all buy the same things.
Andy (Salt Lake City, UT)

My comment was meant to highlight that Millennials are difficult to sell too in a conventional sense. Not that their purchasing patterns are necessarily unique.

If you happen to own a trendy stay-cation spot, you'll likely do well in this demographic. Good luck selling ad-funded cable packages.
Mara (Jersey City)
"Their tastes are almost aggressively idiosyncratic."

The best description I've seen yet.
Trillian (New York City)
The TV networks, by pandering to Millenials, are making the same mistake that many of the big retailers, such as Macy's, have made. Macy's redid it's flagship store on 34th Street to pander to Millenials and the news in the Times yesterday was that they're tanking. I, of a certain age, with all the money to spend, can't stand to step into that store anymore.

Same with TV. My friends and I, along with a vast amount of our peers, have money to spend and, news flash, we buy stuff. Millenials don't.
blueberryintomatosoup (Houston, TX)
"My friends and I, along with a vast amount of our peers, have money to spend and, news flash, we buy stuff. Millenials don't." Bingo!
From everything I've read about millenials, they seem to want everything for free, as illustrated by the two in a loft. I have always wondered why the networks seem to think that anybody over 30 is not worth their time. This is not 1950, where people (read men) graduated from high school, got a good paying job, married, had children, and bought a house way before age 30. Those people probably had money to spend from their well-paying factory jobs, so it made sense. Today is a completely different world.
Andrew (U.S.A.)
How bought they try to sell things that work and are actually useful rather than more apple products, the fire hazard board, and cheap, low quality clothing. Do that and people will buy it.
Robert (Canada)
As one just on the upper end of the millennial categorization by some definitions (born 1982), millennials don't really want avoid the label of being part of the herd. They really want to be part of a different herd, which all consider themselves not part of the herd and give mutual reassurances to each other about that status (thus engage in herd like behavior).

It is really no different that the gen x posture of wanting to 'be different.....just like everyone else'.

The whole entertainment landscape of millennials is characterized by 'likes', reputation, advertising yourself to others. For a generation that supposedly bucks conformity, I have seen such an insecure cohort, so psychologically dependent on the approval of others.
Michael (Los Angeles)
We want Broad City, Girls, Louie, and Amy Schumer. Every other show is lame.
Incredulosity (Astoria)
I'm almost as old and Louis himself and those are my favorite shows.
Rose Anne (Chicago)
My favorites! I am a baby boomer.
Michael (Los Angeles)
You guys show millennial is a state of mind!
Clyde (<br/>)
Ah, the weekly New York TImes Millennial click bait piece which, like, tells us absolutely nothing new. Your "non scientific" study is just that. Maybe you should have, like, quoted some actual research (I'm quite certain the big media companies have done tons of it) or is it just easier to take a cab to Brooklyn?
dve commenter (calif)
not any worse than their TRUMP likes girls story yesterday.
David Sedillo (Los Angeles)
As a 24 year old Millennial, I would agree there isn't one answer in marketing to our age group. Our preferences and interests are as diverse as we are -- and that's the beauty of it. Networks (including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.) are capitalizing on this already, and will continue to. I can stream Better Call Saul on Saturday night and switch to HBO's Sillicon Valley minutes later. Diversity in television has been so refreshing.
dve commenter (calif)
that may be part of the problem--you and other millennials spent way too much time in entertainment mode while the world is falling down around you. The future you are going to inherit isn't going to be streamed via Netflix, but from the thoughts that you might have regarding the state of the world--IN REAL TERMS.
dapperdan37 (Fayetteville, ar)
The revolution will not be streamed. It will not make you hipper, more marketable or get you more likes.
Apologies to Gil Scott Heron
Andy (Salt Lake City, UT)
To dve commenter & dapperdan37:

There are alternative means to obtain more honest information regarding the state of the world. Hard work and research would be the obvious route but there are other avenues available. They've existed longer than millennials have been around. However, I'll use a popular meme to illustrate the problem in communicating the freely accessible variety.

"The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club."
Marc (New York City)
Millennials are simply moving online and less so on TV. Just one example: over 150 million of them watch others play video games. They call it 'esports.' They are on Twitch, not a TV channel. There's a business event on it ( ) next month in LA that discusses just where this market segment can be found. TV options appears to not be among them. TV networks need to really scratch their heads and innovate, otherwise their market will remain near the water coolers at the office.
dve commenter (calif)
" next month in LA that discusses just where this market segment can be found."

right next to the Ivory-billed woodpecker.
rjhemedes (Los Angeles)
Why waste time and effort trying to market and sell to the Millenials? As the article pointed out, all they really want is FREE stuff or things they don't have to pay for. Just look at how they are piggy back riding on other people's Netflix or HBO accounts. Focus instead on people who are actually willing to pay for products and services, instead of a group where many haven't been able to leave their parents yet and pay off their college loans. Most of them won't reach true adulthood independence until their 40's and 50's due to their helicopter parent upbringing.
Blue state (Here)
snrk. Nothing wrong with frugal, especially if you have no money!
hguy (nyc)
Even though aging Boomers represented the largest purchasers by far, Madison Avenue clings to the notion that getting consumers when they're starting adulthood hooks them for life — as though people have brand loyalty nowadays.
Frugal is one thing, cheap is another, and stealing content is just that, stealing.
Chris (Toronto)
How are Millenials different from Generation X, who craved individualism, unique experiences and didn't want to follow the herd? Or the Baby Boomers, who had the exact same desires?

I'm tired of hearing how unique Millennials are.
dve commenter (calif)
actually I think that for the "baby boomers" we were the "lab rats" for the advertising industry that finally learned how to target audiences in later generations. Remember after the war (that is WWII in case you are too young to know that) most everything was new because before that there was the CRASH of '29 and the god-awful 1930's that didn't offer much except songs like "Brother can you spare a dime", sung by Joan Blondel. By the time of the Mad Men 60's we had really developed products and sales forces and color advertising and all that jazz. For millennials it is just retread culture.
Independent (Independenceville)
It isn't about celebrating a generation's Hooks. It is about identifying how the latest youth can have their egos most effectively stroked. The bigger the generation, the more stroking. As baby boomers fade, the stroking that they always get, that is as invisible to them is water is to a fish, will diminish and be given to a generation of cats that pretend to hate being pets.
See also