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You can thank millennials for HBO Now

The youngest watchers prefer streaming video to regular TV, and their behavior is more likely to spread to older folks rather than the other way around, a study says.

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Millennial habits, such as preferring streaming to regular TV, spurred programmers to loosen the reins on online television options. Getty Images/Blend Images

All of you who pined for HBO to launch an online subscription service, like its new HBO Now, can thank millennials for making that happen.

The younger viewers are, the more likely it is that they will prefer watching streaming services instead of live TV, according to Deloitte's ninth annual Digital Democracy Survey. What's more, trends over those nine years indicate that entertainment habits of millennials -- people defined as 31 and younger -- are more likely to become standard practice across all age groups.

"There were folks nine years ago who said millennials will become more like us as they get older, but what we've seen is the opposite," said Kevin Westcott, who leads the consulting firm's US media and entertainment segment,

Overall, 56 percent of consumers stream movies and 53 percent stream television every month. Those percentages are much higher , however, for people between the ages of 14 and 25. In that group, 77 percent stream movies and 72 percent stream television programs.

And while average US viewers spend 45 percent of that time watching regular live TV, the youngest demographic looks at live television only 28 percent of their viewing time.

The stats underscore why many traditional TV companies are choosing to launch direct-to-consumer online channels. After years of resistance, companies such as HBO, CBS, Nickelodeon and Dish now offer services that stream their live programming online. That means consumers no longer have to pay for a full package of TV through cable companies and other providers. The expectation is that today's young consumers won't sign up for in big, pricey TV contracts when they become the heads of their own households.

Indeed, consumers increasingly prefer to subscribe to only a few regularly watched channels: 52 percent said they'd like to pay for television this way, a 10 percentage point jump from two years earlier. And the number of channels that people watch regularly is shrinking, too. The average in the latest survey was 11; two years ago, it was 15.

And this year, more pay-TV subscribers seemed open to the idea of changing providers or cord cutting. Or, as the survey put it, fewer people said they'd completely ruled out such moves -- that percentage decreased to 62 percent from 68 percent two years earlier.

While the oldest demographic -- people 65 and over -- listed Internet and pay-TV services as equal favorites, only 58 percent of people age 14 through 25 called pay TV one of their most valued services. And 72 percent of those youngest people said streaming services like Netflix were favorites.

The data might seem to paint a grim picture for cable companies, except that many of the country's biggest pay TV providers are also the nation's main Internet service providers. Across the board, consumers said having Internet in the home is the most valued service; 94 percent of consumers ranked it in their top three.

Deloitte's survey was conducted by independent research firm in November among 2,076 US consumers.