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What young media users pay for — and why

November 22, 2022 | By Suzanne S. LaPierre – Independent Media Reporter @Bookmouser

Content may want to be free, but that’s not always a sustainable business model. So, what content are users — especially the highly coveted younger demographic — willing to pay for, and why? It’s a broad question but one that’s worth trying to answer.

Massive amounts of time and money have been spent trying to figure this out. So we are aggregating many of the most salient data points to find out what younger generations are opening their virtual wallets for — and what they can do without.


Gaming is hugely popular among all generations — especially for young people — and it holds more meaning than mere entertainment. According to 2022 research by Deloitte, 80% of U.S. adults report playing video games, and the practice is almost universal among younger adults: a whopping 96% of Gen Z and Millennials identify as gamers. The study on media trends in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, and Japan found that these young adults play 11 hours per week. 57% of Boomers and Mature audiences identified as gamers in the same survey, reporting an average of six hours per week gaming. Gen Z adults rank video gaming as their favorite entertainment activity in all countries surveyed.

More than three-quarters (78%) of U.S. gamers in Deloitte’s study report that the practice relaxes them; 61% said gaming helps them express themselves. In addition, 59% agree gaming has helped them through a difficult time, and 53% say gaming keeps them connected socially. These numbers show video games’ importance to people’s lives, especially the more immersive, complex games.

Gaming also leads users to discover other media content. For example, in Deloitte’s survey, 51% of U.S. and 71% of Brazilians said they often discover new music while gaming. While online immersive gaming worlds like Second Life are typically free to join, gamers often choose to spend money on branded virtual goods or even physical merchandise bought in-world. In-game live events such as music concerts are popular, with a quarter of U.S. gamers attending an in-game event last year. According to Deloitte, 82% of those attending live in-game events have made a purchase because of the event. Worth noting is that 65% of the purchases were digital goods, and 34% were physical merchandise, an indication of the overlap between real-world and virtual selves.

Over half of Gen Alpha and Gen Z players have spent money on a game over the past six months, according to a recent report by Newzoo, and 33% of them did so on a mobile device. While young users appear less likely to pay upfront for games on mobile devices due to the prevalence of free games, they are likely to spend money in-game for virtual goods such as currency, gear, or characters. Newzoo reports these are a particular draw for young users, with 93% of Gen Alpha and 91% of Gen Z gamers reporting having made such purchases over the past six months. 

According to Voxburner, the most popular games among Gen Z are Minecraft (76%), Call of Duty (73%), and Fortnite (68%). Roblox and Animal Crossing are also popular. While the mobile versions of these games are free or low-cost to install, companies are raking it in via ads and in-app purchases. For example, Fortnite made over $9 billion in its first two years, even though it is free to join and optional purchases such as skins are aesthetic with no impact on gameplay.

Streaming Video on Demand (SVOD)

Perhaps habituated by customizable gaming experiences, younger audiences seem to be customizing their video streaming experience — at least when it comes to spending. As a result, younger users of SVOD services are more likely than older users to churn through services — by joining and then canceling, sometimes repeatedly, according to Deloitte.

The study found Gen Z consumers are especially sensitive to more expensive services, engaging in “churn and return” — repeatedly canceling and rejoining. This behavior enables them to acquire desired content — like a new season of a favorite series — while avoiding paying for a service when they aren’t using it. In the U.S., 35% of Gen Z users and 38% of Millennials surveyed had canceled and renewed streaming video services during the last 12 months, compared to just 7% of Boomers and older generations.

Similarly, a Morning Consult study demonstrated users of all ages prefer ad-sponsored content that is free or lower cost to higher subscription costs — and Gen Z adults are the most cost-averse when it comes to monthly fees. Only 16% of Gen Z adults surveyed spend more than $30 a month on streaming services, compared to 31% of Millennials. These findings suggest ad-funded tiers could cut churn rates, as subscribers are unlikely to cancel a service with no monthly fee.

Research also suggests that combining media offerings is appealing to younger users. For example, 51% of Gen Zs and Millennials in Deloitte’s survey indicated they would stay with their SVOD subscription if it included gaming, a music service, or another SVOD service.

Social Media

While social media platforms offer free admission, time spent there often leads to purchases. Deloitte found 70% of people in the U.S. say they follow an influencer, and more than half of Gen Z and Millennials say these influencers sway their purchasing decisions.

Social media ads are highly targeted and personalized. More than half of American respondents, 72% of Brazilians, and about 40% in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan surveyed by Deloitte say they see ads on social media for products or services they have been seeking. Additionally, 39% of Japanese respondents say that shopping is among the top three activities they engage in on social media.


Research by The Knight Foundation found most U.S. Gen Z and Millennials surveyed (65% and 64%, respectively) said it is fair to pay for news, at least under some circumstances. Only 39% of Boomers agreed. About half of Gen Z and Millennials say it is reasonable for news organizations to charge for events; 37% of Gen Z respondents say it is reasonable to charge for exclusive or special content.

Although Gen Z through Gen X report paying less attention to all forms of news compared with the national average, more Gen Z and Millennials say they are willing to pay for news in the future, compared to older generations (22% of Millenials versus 12% of Boomers). Conversely, younger audiences were also more likely to agree that news should be free for all users via government funding and/or private donations: 30% of Gen Z agreed news should be free, compared to 17% of Boomers. Gen X and Boomers are more likely to agree it is fair to support news through advertising (38% and 31%, respectively) than Gen Z (20%).

Research from the American Press Institute’s Media Insight Project showed Gen Z and Millennials are more likely to pay for streaming services that include news content (57%) than pay for news directly (28%).

According to the Knight report, 52% of Gen Z — compared to 45% of Boomers— say they look elsewhere for news content when encountering a paywall. About twice as many Gen Zs (10%) as Boomers (6%) and the Silent Generation (5%) say they try to find the story on social media instead. In addition, boomers (29%) and Gen X (33%) are more likely to skip the news story altogether when encountering a paywall compared to Gen Z (21%). So while younger adults may believe it’s fair for news organizations to charge fees, they also appear to think it’s fair game to try to evade those fees by seeking similar content elsewhere.   

Key takeaways for media companies

  1. Young consumers avoid paying for costly subscriptions by churning through the service. Therefore, SVOD companies should explore low-cost or free ad-supported tier options less likely to be dropped by frugal users.
  2. Young people tend to be committed gamers willing to spend money on in-game enhancements. So bundles and perks that include gaming could help SVOD services — and other media companies — retain more subscribers.
  3. While younger generations believe it’s fair for news providers to be publicly funded and/or charge for unique content, they also seek news elsewhere when faced with paywalls. A twofold approach of bundling subscriptions while enabling premium single-serving content to be purchased ala carte may succeed with younger users who expect interconnected experiences with optional or customizable payment options.

Younger audiences may be highly sought after, but their preferences are pretty straightforward. Publishers paying attention to these desires can build packages that cater to them and build a loyal audience for years to come.

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