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How Gen Z Is Shaping the Future of Media and Entertainment


Gen Z consumers have already begun putting their stamp on both entertainment programming and device interfaces. They want greater control over their viewing options, and they’re wide open to virtual reality. Just don’t ask them to type. We have pragmatic suggestions for media companies seeking Gen Z customers.

It’s not breaking news to say the way we consume media and entertainment has radically changed over the last two decades. What is intriguing, however, is that while consumption patterns have evolved along with technology advancements, those patterns are not consistent across generations.

Distinct generational differences are expected to widen as the digital natives of Generation Z gain more purchasing power and establish their preferences. Media and entertainment companies have already started to anticipate that shift, and are embracing new ways to engage their youngest consumers while still meeting the expectations of established core buyers. This shift has a direct impact on media advertising as these emerging consumers engage with brands and brand messaging in ways that are unique to Gen Z.

We commissioned the Center for Generational Kinetics to uncover the nuances of these generational differences in digital content consumption patterns. Specifically, our study examined the perceptions and trends for three groups over the next three to five years. These groups included:

  • Gen Z (ages 15–22).

  • Millennials/Gen Y (ages 23–41).

  • Gen X (ages 42–53).

Based on the study findings, here are the biggest trends that media and entertainment providers should be aware of, along with insights on how to evolve models and offerings to meet consumer expectations.

Technology blurs distribution channels

For all generations surveyed, content consumption will continue to grow across various devices, including smartphones, televisions and portable computers. However, they will lean heavily toward consuming more content on smartphones.

When asked about specific content they’d consume on each device, social media videos were most popular (76%) on smartphones, while movies (72%) led in the television category. They also said that in the next three to five years they will primarily watch YouTube videos via portable computers (such as tablets and laptops), virtually doubling usage to 60%.

Social media and YouTube videos are the most popular content consumed on portable computers and other devices. On YouTube, the average video is four to  five minutes, but don’t focus only on short attention spans; engaging content is popular even if it runs 15 minutes to two hours. YouTube content is also primarily produced by independent creators who are developing new ways to monetize content.

Gen Z respondents are also more enthusiastic about taking control of their shows than are their Gen X counterparts. While the majority of the younger generation (55%) want the option to “choose their own adventure,” there’s still a significant portion of Gen Z who want to just sit back and watch a movie the old-fashioned way.

For media companies, this leads to the following suggestions:

  • Develop competitive direct-to-consumer strategies to deliver content to audiences exactly when, where and how they want it.

  • Consider integrating a wider range of content into the content strategy, including short-form scripted and unscripted assets. Define how these formats fit into the programming strategy, particularly in nonlinear distribution platforms, or embrace emerging digital platforms on which the audience “hangs out” regularly.

  • When determining how best to create content, consider the popularity of existing online content. In addition to focus groups, proven online creators can serve as litmus tests to predict the success of new formats and genres before you greenlight expensive productions. Perhaps in the future, the ability to predict content preferences will reside in an algorithm.

  • Adjust advertising models to match the content consumption platforms that Gen Z uses most, such as YouTube. Advertising may need to be more deeply integrated into videos than just quick traditional ads.

For further insights into Gen Z and content control, see Gen Z Study Reveals Three Trends That Will Redefine Tomorrow’s Digital Lifestyle.

‘Touch’ is the new ‘type’

When using devices, 56% of Gen Z prefer touch, while 33% prefer to talk. By contrast, both millennials and Gen X favor conversational technology over touch, but typing was the least popular across all generations.

Over 55% of Gen Z spend five hours or more on their phones every day, and one-third of women in that group spend a whopping 10 or more hours a day on their phones. Swiping, tapping and snapping videos offer the speed and convenience that typing lacks.

However, while implementing touch technology should be a priority, it obviously has to be done right. Before implementation, consider the user experience and the environment in which the technology will be used. For example, if users need to wear gloves or are otherwise unable to touch a screen, typing or talking will be a better option.

Some suggestions and key questions for media companies:

  • Consider an environment where consumers might move between pieces of content. While they may prefer to swipe or touch, not all circumstances will allow for that. How will user experiences across platforms accommodate intermittent or distracted content consumption behavior, and how will you make it easy to return to previously incomplete threads? How might a future content interaction model deliver a personalized recap experience beyond the basic “continue watching” reminder?

  • Use human-experience design to inform how to transform consumer engagement through touch interfaces.

  • Traditional typed comments might become outdated for Gen Z consumers who consider such comments too linear or sequential. Consider new audience engagement mechanisms.

  • Gen Z wants an easy way to share content and connect with their circle of people. Make sending content from person to person as seamless as possible.

Gen Z is excited about virtual reality, especially for video and online games

Of all the generations, Gen Z is most likely to embrace virtual reality-based entertainment. About 60% of Gen Z responders said they would likely use VR, with another 22% saying they were neutral about it.

Over half (52%) of Gen Z said they expect to use VR to play and watch video and online games in the near future. Another 43% said they would use VR for movies, while 36% said they expect to use the new technology for live events, such as concerts and award shows.

Compared to older generations, Gen Z seems to have a much more active perception of how VR can be used. Millennials were essentially split across the board on how they’d most like to use VR, and about half (51%) of Gen X respondents expected to use VR to watch movies or live events.

This leads to several suggestions for media companies:

  • Bring consumers into content through VR, beyond just placing the viewer in the middle of the action. Using VR should make consumers feel as if they’re a part of the story.

  • Work advertising opportunities into VR content, but be sure the ads don’t distract from the illusion. Sponsorships, product placements and other integrated ads are more likely to be successful than traditional commercials.

  • Companies can bring “choose your own adventure” to media content through VR. Consumers make choices as they interact with the content, keeping the story moving seamlessly.

Gen Z’s relationship with technology is reshaping the way companies across all industries act. Companies in the media and entertainment world must develop a better understanding of the devices that Gen Z consumers use; where and how they consume content; and the role they wish to have in the direction their content goes.

These challenging questions also pose exciting opportunities. Start exploring new ways to meet the needs of the Millennials and Gen Z digital consumer by scheduling a conversation with us to discuss how we are helping clients deliver relevant, personalized experiences. 

To learn more, visit the Generation Now section of our website.

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