Advertisers Are Finding Millennials in an Unexpected Place: TV Syndication

Family Guy reruns draw young viewers to live TV

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Advertisers have left no platform unturned in their quest to find and reach linear-TV-phobic millennials. And now they've turned to a surprising place: syndicated television.

TV syndication studio Twentieth Television, which is home to eight of the top 10 syndicated shows among adults ages 18-34—including Family Guy (No. 1 with a 1.7 rating), Modern Family, Family Feud, The Cleveland Show and Bob's Burgers—has spent the last two years meeting with clients to emphasize syndication's overlooked success in reaching those oh-so-prized millennial viewers.

In the process, Twentieth is trying to change the musty perception of syndication, which often is associated with old-skewing shows like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! (both of which have audiences with median ages greater than 65). However, The Cleveland Show and King of the Hill boast a median syndication-viewer age of 26. Bob's Burgers is 30 and Family Guy is 32.

Another selling point: Viewers' median ages are even lower for episodes in syndication than they are for prime-time broadcast airings. Bob's Burgers falls from a 38 in prime time to 30 in syndication, while Family Guy tumbles from 36 in prime time to 32 in syndication.

Twentieth's efforts have attracted new advertisers and increased spending in several categories, including games like Activation, movies, quick-service restaurants (QSRs) including Burger King, and government-affiliated services like the U.S. Navy and Truth Initiative's anti-smoking campaign.

"We've had hundreds of in-person meetings, and we're starting to see this mindset shift with advertisers," said Michael Teicher, evp, media sales for Twentieth Television. "Advertisers are now recognizing that there are segments of syndication that, it's not only a perfect place to reach millennials, but it's necessary in this landscape, because we realize that millennials are fleeing linear television as we know it today."

That has left advertisers desperate to target them by any means necessary, even if that means looking seriously at syndication for the first time. "We're seeing more advertisers that have become more laser-focused on millennials as well because they're either part of their demo now, or will be going forward. So in order to establish brand loyalty, it's a good idea for advertisers to start to build a communication line with this hard-to-reach group," said Teicher.

The exec pointed to new Nielsen data from September, which found that non-linear TV viewing among millennials and adults 18-34 is 68 percent higher in prime time than in the early fringe (roughly 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.) and late fringe (roughly 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.) dayparts, when most syndicated shows air. In other words, millennials are more likely to stream or watch shows on other platforms during primetime hours, not even syndicated shows air. 

Another attraction for advertisers: While live TV viewing is on the decline in prime time, syndicated programs are still watched live, not via delayed viewing like DVR or video on demand. "Nobody records our stuff, because if you missed it on Tuesday, you watch it on Wednesday," said Teicher. "Our stuff is viewed live, on linear television."

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV/Media Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.