Get All Access for $5/mo

How Growing Up With the Internet Made Millennials Different The generation dubbed "digital natives'' prefer YouTube to TV and the World Cup to bowl games. Marketers need to adapt.

By Jeff Urban Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Every generation has its unique defining characteristics, and the ways Gen X, Y and Z each use and interact with digital media is a hallmark differentiator. One's age at the turn of the century, or simply their existence at all in the year 2000, can provide a good roadmap for how an individual likes to consume entertainment. Older Gen Y's and all of Gen X, generally those above the age of 24 at the moment, are considered digital immigrants. If you're a digital immigrant, you prioritize TV over YouTube. You enjoy watching more than one full-length football game on Sunday. Rooting for your local sports teams feels natural.

Younger Gen Y's and Gen Z fall into the digital native camp, however, and if you're a digital native, you are most likely found watching YouTube and using social networks. The idea of sitting through a three-hour plus major league game bores you. You are a fan of soccer stars based in countries you've never visited.

Related: Market With an Eye to Engagement. Offer Value (Not Sheer Hype)

The difference between old and new media consumption habits will drive change in the media landscape as we know it as more millennials enter the workforce and increase their purchasing power. Changes are already being felt throughout the industry as broadcast companies begin to feel the effects of cord cutting and declining interest in live TV as services like Netflix and Hulu thrive. Even as more people decline to pay for cable TV, though, the demand for content is not wavering. The younger generations are seeking and finding content beyond the confines of traditional TV. As a small business, it is important to allocate your marketing and advertising budgets to the most effective ways to reach your target consumer base. If you're targeting millennials, focus on finding them where they are viewing content.

Examining millennial sports consumption is an excellent way to understand the generational divide. While Baby Boomers and Gen X are most likely to root for their local sports teams, the Internet and the online social communities have enabled millennials to discover sports and teams beyond regional restrictions. As an entrepreneur, this should encourage you to think beyond local if you are targeting millennials, a generation that are truly citizens of the world.

Millennials are global sports fans; they like to stream global sports content and discuss it on social media. Just take the interest in the recent World Cup. In the U.S. alone, a record-breaking 5.3 million unique viewers tuned in for the round-of-16 match between Belgium and the United States on ESPN and Univision streaming platforms, according to FIFA. The social conversations were record-breaking, too, the semi-final match between Brazil and Germany was the most discussed single sports game ever on Twitter with 35.6 million tweets, according to Twitter Data.

Related: 6 Things You as a Leader Need To Know About Technology

Beyond watching sports, media consumption habits continue to diverge by generation. Millennials first check their social platforms for entertainment, unlike previous generations who gravitate towards TV. Today's successful content providers interact with their fans through social media and tailor their material to what the fans want. This is the generation that doesn't want to be marketed to, they'd rather be engaged. If you're a small business, it's important to have a genuine and meaningful social presence to reach millennials. Authentic content is most important to them, and they demand it. Manufactured content is against the DNA of what young millennial fans are craving today. Millennials don't care if content is professionally produced, they're just concerned if it is cool and authentic. If you want to sell your product to a millennial, you need to be part of the conversation that millennials are having with each other. Providing content from creators that are millennials themselves is a great way to be right there with the audience.

Social networks have become an ingrained part of a young person's life. It may be easy to think that as millennials get older, their desire to unwind at the end of a workday will center on their living room TV's, but that simply isn't the case. They can't unwire the way they grew up. Good content will always be relevant, it is just the distribution methods that are changing in the new media landscape. Content creators who allow their programming to be user-generated will be the most revered. Advertising agencies, brands and small businesses that can engage in an authentic way will resonate the most with millennials. Adapting to these changes now will ensure a fruitful relationship with both digital immigrants and natives for years to come.

Related: How This Digital Agency Is Cashing In on a New Kind of Celebrity Endorsement

Jeff Urban

President and Co-Founder of Whistle Sports Network

Jeff Urban oversees the Whistle Sports Network’s investor and content partners, such as the NFL, MLBAM, PGA Tour and NASCAR. He previously worked for eight years as a senior vice president of sports and event marketing at Gatorade. Prior to joining Gatorade, Urban worked for Frankel Promotion agency where he served as VP of sports and entertainment marketing, and spent more than seven years as a director of sports marketing at USA TODAY, overseeing all the league and property relationships with the paper and drove all sports sales.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick


ChatGPT is Becoming More Human-Like. Here's How The Tool is Getting Smarter at Replicating Your Voice, Brand and Personality.

AI can be instrumental in building your brand and boosting awareness, but the right approach is critical. A custom GPT delivers tailored collateral based on your ethos, personality and unique positioning factors.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Business News

Apple Reportedly Isn't Paying OpenAI to Use ChatGPT in iPhones

The next big iPhone update brings ChatGPT directly to Apple devices.

Business News

Is the AI Industry Consolidating? Hugging Face CEO Says More AI Entrepreneurs Are Looking to Be Acquired

Clément Delangue, the CEO of Hugging Face, a $4.5 billion startup, says he gets at least 10 acquisition requests a week and it's "increased quite a lot."

Business News

Sony Pictures Entertainment Purchases Struggling, Cult-Favorite Movie Theater Chain

Alamo Drafthouse originally emerged from bankruptcy in June 2021.

Growing a Business

He Immigrated to the U.S. and Got a Job at McDonald's — Then His Aversion to Being 'Too Comfortable' Led to a Fast-Growing Company That's Hard to Miss

Voyo Popovic launched his moving and storage company in 2018 — and he's been innovating in the industry ever since.