Gen Z’s Lacking Affinity for Films & TV

How is this next generation going to revolutionize the movie industry?

Change is a constant in the modern film and television industry. It’s a statement that’s always been true, but over the last decade has been especially palpable. The introduction of new technologies has ushered in dramatic changes in film and television viewing behavior.

Streaming services have transformed the way people consume media practically overnight. Intellectual property is being scooped up left and right, accelerating the transformation of stories into content. And all of these trends have only been exacerbated by COVID-19, which has kept people locked indoors and glued to their screens.

Hollywood is no stranger to change, of course. From the decline of the studio system in the 1950s to the introduction of home video technology, film studios have been navigating challenges and seizing opportunities for seemingly their entire history.

As with before, the changes happening right now will result in winners and losers. Some companies will adapt to new trends, take bold risks, and will continue to shape the media landscape. Others will be unable to change with the times, and will go the way of RKO Pictures and the LaserDisc.

And with 2021 well underway, two trends in particular should be of special interest to any studio hoping to make it through the next few turbulent years. One is the decline in theatre attendance – since peaking in 2002, the number of tickets sold in North America have decreased by 25%. Although theaters are still able to rake in impressive profits through the inflated cost of tickets, the increased popularity of streaming nevertheless represents a direct threat to their business model.

The other trend – and one to take note of in relation to its likelihood to even more rapidly evolve the industry – is generational. Namely, how will Gen Z shape the film & television ecosystem for movie studios and beyond?

The Silver Screen, Sliding Down the Rankings

Gen-Z – also known as “Zoomers” – are of course the youngest generation of American consumers. Born roughly between 1997 and 2012, Gen-Z and their unpredictable habits both intrigue and frustrate marketers across all industries. In seemingly every area of modern life, the Zoomers defy the generations that came before them and demand new and novel experiences.

Film and television viewing is no exception. The most frightening statistic suggests that Zoomers don’t care for the silver screen at all. In a recent Deloitte survey, Zoomers listed watching movies and TV as their fifth favorite form of in-home entertainment, the first generation with the category not listed in the top spot. Topping the list was video games (somewhat predictably), but listening to music, surfing the web, and engaging on social media all ranked above movies and TV as well.

What does this fact mean for the future of the entertainment industry? Will studios stop catering content to younger audiences, or will they perhaps invest more heavily in non-cinematic forms of entertainment? Perhaps. But before making any rash decisions, film executives and marketers should pay attention to some other key Zoomer insights, so that they can more fully understand how to best appeal to younger audiences. What they find may surprise them.

Right off the bat is one interesting insight. While Gen-Z may enjoy watching movies and TV at home less than older generations, they may actually be more likely to go see movies in the theaters.

A 2019 study found that 75% of Zoomers reported seeing at least one movie a month, the highest percentage of any generation by nearly ten points. This enthusiasm for the big screen seems to be carrying over post-pandemic, as well. Dynata recently asked representatives of every generation how soon they planned to go back to the theaters after COVID lockdowns had ended; 60% of Zoomers said they planned to return “as soon as possible.” Older viewers were more hesitant, with the majority saying they planned to go back slowly or not at all.

Gen-Z’s proclivity for going to the movies may be a simple result of age, as young people have always flocked to theaters. It may also be a result of the generation’s willingness to pay for “experiences” rather than just products. Further research lends some more credence to this theory, showing that over 65% of Gen-Z enjoys Dine-In Theaters as a more exciting and social way to go out to the movies. Movie theaters should pay attention to Zoomers’ appreciation for unique experiences, and find more ways to make their venues stand out. Live events, for example, or perhaps screenings of beloved classics.

In addition, theaters should find other ways to appeal more to younger audiences. A recent Morning Consult report, for example, showed that high price tags on tickets and concessions are one factor keeping  Zoomers away from theaters. Offering discounts – or even rewards programs, as major chains like AMC and Regal have begun to do – may be one way to convince more Zoomer to go to the movies.

Still, the theaters are only one part of the battle. How can studios and networks win over a generation that claims to enjoy checking their Facebook more than watching a new movie at home?

“Level Up” with Gaming

Part of the answer may lie in precisely those other habits that are competing for the Zoomers’ attention – referring particularly to video games.

87% of Gen-Z play video games at least weekly, and over 25% list gaming as their favorite at-home entertainment option. The industry created by this love of gaming is predictably massive, standing at a whopping $162 billion and growing 10% annually. Studios might be able to take advantage of this gaming mania by releasing video game themed films and TV shows – such as the recent surprise box office hit Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds. Alternatively, they may experiment with ways to make their content more interactive, such as releasing games tied in to movies or shows – perhaps a sneak peek of Netflix’s upcoming move?

“Directing” Attention to Social

Gen-Z’s well-documented love for social media presents another potential avenue for media companies to tap into. According to a study sponsored by Telaria and Hulu, nearly half of Zoomers use a smart phone every time they watch TV; among that number, 48% report social media as their most common two-screen activity of choice. While some may respond to this statistic with hackneyed jokes about short attention spans, content producers should really pay attention to this unique viewing behavior. By increasing the social media presence of actors, creators, or even the characters themselves, studios may find a way to engage Gen-Z on their own turf. 

All of this is to say: despite what a few statistics might seem to suggest, TV and movie studios absolutely need to pay attention to Gen-Z audiences – and the methods to do so are well within the grasp of any creative executive team with a good read on current trends. The rewards for winning over the loyalty of Gen-Z could be lucrative, too. Some research suggests that Gen-Z is more accepting of advertisements than their older peers, and even more willing to share ads with others in their generation. Gen-Z’s loyalty to shows and movies is also impressive, with 60% engaging in “binge-watching” behavior of a single show. If the studios can capture the eyeballs of younger viewers, they may just earn a valuable, loyal audience for life.

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