Live sports has long been a mainstay of must-see programming. But with the fragmentation of sports media distribution and evolving content consumption habits, even this staple might be losing its hold – particularly among younger audiences.
Gen Z is less interested in live in-person or televised sports events than any other adult demographic, according to recent research by Morning Consult. The survey responses from people ages 13-25 reveal that, in addition to attending fewer live games and watching fewer of them on broadcast or cable, only 2 in 5 Gen Zs have a favorite team that they follow. So, how can sports content providers change tactics to appeal to them?
The warning signs
Here’s a look at some warning signs revealed by the study:
38% of Gen Z responders agreed with the statement “I don’t have a favorite sports team” compared to 25% of adults in general.
Only 25% of those Gen Zs who do have a favorite sports team watch “all or most” of that team’s games, compared with 37% of adults in general.
47% of Gen Z have never watched a live professional sports event in person (compared to 41% of all adults), and 60% have never watched a college game in person (compared with 53% of all adults).
Only 28% of Gen Zs watch sports events live on broadcast or cable compared with 47% of adults overall.
Of Gen Z’s who haven’t watched a sports event on TV in the last couple of years, 57% said it’s because they are just not interested. 20% said the games are too long.
Gen Z fans relate differently to sports media
So, what does Gen Z like when it comes to sports entertainment? Streaming video wins this generation’s attention. Significantly, 32% of Gen Zs said they watch live sports via a licensed streaming service, compared to only 25% of all adults.
Gen Z sports fans can also be reached via their favorite social media platforms. Four of the top five media platforms where Gen Z gets their sports news are social channels, the survey found. YouTube, Instagram and TikTok were the top platforms Gen Z cited as places they look for sports news.
31% of Gen Zs looked for sport news on YouTube compared with only 21% of all adults.
26% of Zs used Instagram for this purpose compared to only 12% of all adults.
24% used TikTok for sports news compared to only 8% of adults overall.
In contrast, Facebook, ESPN, and ESPN SportsCenter were much less popular among Gen Zs than they were among older adults looking for sports news.
Experts recommend tapping into youth advisers or advisory panels to report Gen Z’s preferences, peeves, and trends to those in sports management and marketing.
When it comes to attending live events in person, lower ticket prices, flawless Wi-Fi, and community spaces are cited as factors that can help attract younger adults to arenas. Student-focused marketing may include discounted bundles of tickets and swag, theme nights, and hyping the fan experience in the stadium, such as the celebratory entrance of players to the field and tifos occurring in the stands.
Personalities and influencers
In an interview with Mark J. Burns, Snapchat creator Jack Settleman recommends hiring a special personality to connect with fans on social platforms, and utilizing SnapChat and YouTube thoroughly. Since Gen Zs rely heavily on social media, stadiums need to have excellent Wi-Fi to attract and keep teens and young adults who expect to be able to multitask and share experiences in real time. Settleman emphasizes the importance of excellent Wi-Fi during stadium events: “(Make) sure every NFL stadium has perfect Wi-Fi — that is so crucial. My first question when I go to a stadium is, ‘What is your Wi-Fi login?’ I’m always a bit nervous. I can’t post content. I can’t text my friends. I can’t follow along on Twitter.”
Recruiting the help of content creators and influencers on trending social platforms is also advisable. While following athletes and teams on social media may not directly translate into cash for the sports industry, Morning Consult found that 45% of Gen Zs report having purchased clothing sponsored by an influencer or celebrity. Other kinds of sports merchandise, event tickets, and subscriptions may benefit from this type of marketing as well.
Young sports fans expect integrated, immersive, and flexible experiences that respect their time, budgets, and preferences. They seek live connections over social platforms whether they are at home or in stadiums. There are still plenty of Gen Z sports fans; they just have different ways of relating to sports content than their predecessors.
The young are restless when it comes to their news habits and preferences. Under-30 audiences prefer broad content and lighter tone. They are less likely to be loyal to news brands and more likely to consume news from a variety of media formats and platforms. While myriad preferences can be challenging for news purveyors, they also create new opportunities in the form of side-doors.
These observations stem from The Kaleidoscope report on research performed with 72 people aged 18–30 in Brazil, the UK, and the U.S. by market research agency Craft for Reuters Institute. This qualitative research adds specificity and texture to the wider statistical research leased earlier this year in Reuters’ 2022 Digital News Report.
News versus “the news”
Young people make a distinction between what they consider “news” – which includes a variety of lighter topics such as sports, arts, culture, and celebrity gossip covered by a variety of platforms and brands – from what they consider “the news,” which is comprised of weightier topics such as international affairs and “need to know” information more likely to be covered by mainstream media.
Emerging from The Kaleidoscope data are three types of news consumers among those aged 30 and under:
Hobbyist/dutiful users seek news for entertainment or out of a sense of duty to stay informed and contribute to civic conversation. They appreciate more frequent updates on news stories, engage on a deeper level, and seek news from a broader variety of brands.
Main eventers tune in for practical “need to know” stories and developments that impact their daily lives. They use a combination of mainstream and newer brands.
Disengaged people typically avoid ‘the news’ but are sometimes motivated by FOMO (fear of missing out) and the need to be aware of big stories that might come up in conversation or impact their lives. These users are often late to a story and seek quick summaries and explanations to catch up. They are more likely to turn to mainstream brands or use popular search engines.
Skepticism and news avoidance
A lack of trust in the motives behind news stories was cited by many of the 30-and-under participants in The Kaleidoscope study. They expressed weariness with depressing topics such as the pandemic and political polarization, and topics that seem to drag on without resolution. The following were often cited as reasons for avoiding the news:
It’s upsetting. Younger audiences report an interest in more mood-elevating and entertaining content.
It’s repetitive. Many under 30 report tiring of repetitious coverage of major topics, citing a preference for more variety of news stories, with a broader definition of news, including “softer” news topics such as culture and the arts, education, sports, and celebrity coverage.
They don’t trust it. The skeptical comments of young people in the qualitative study aligned with statistical findings of Reuter’s 2022 Digital News Report, which found that only about a third (37%) of people under 35 say they trust most news most of the time, compared with nearly half of those 55 and older (47%).
What DO younger audiences want from news?
More variety in media formats
More diverse voices and opinions
News tailored to their personal interests
More “softer” stories to balance the serious ones
Formats that enable participation through commenting and sharing
Study participants cited content tailored to personal interests as a prime reason for preferring social media to television news. However, they were also aware of how the filter bubbles and algorithms of social media feeds were likely to support bias.
Text and traditional media still matter
The Russian invasion of Ukraine began during the study period, enabling researchers to examine how participants reacted to a major developing news story. Participants responded to the magnitude of this event with greater attention to mainstream media, live and on-the-ground coverage.
Although younger audiences often engage with multimedia and video content, most still report a preference for reading news rather than watching it. Some cited the privacy factor of reading in public and described reading news as more “professional” and “serious” than watching video or television.
These findings again align with Reuters’ 2022 Digital News Report, which found that while under-35’s have a strong inclination towards video content, 58% claim to prefer to mostly read news. Only 15% reported a preference for watching news, especially when seeking live updates and summaries on a need-to-know basis.
Authors of The Kaleidoscope report suggest using content more in tune with contemporary internet culture. This might include:
Use of emergent platforms, and an understanding of codes and conventions therein.
Recruiting talent knowledgeable in the content and vibe of emergent platforms.
Creating new brands or sub-brands to engage younger audiences, while retaining the credibility of mainstream brands.
While variety in media and content is paramount to under-30 audiences, younger people still rely on traditional sources when they think it matters most. Therefore, maintaining mainstream options while developing novel offerings may be the best approach.
Whether reliant on advertising, subscription revenue, or a combination of both, attracting new audiences is a critical component of media success. And, given that Gen Z is the largest generation, the cohort takes on particular significance. While they consume about the same amount of news as Millennials, they use it much differently than previous generations. Therefore, it is critical that media leaders understand their specific consumption style to attract this younger audience.
The International News Media Association (INMA)’s new report, What Gen Z + Media Need From Each Other, identifies strategies to grow digital news media appeal among the Gen Z audience. Author Paula Felps explores six case studies to see how news media companies are experimenting with connecting with Gen Z. The case studies were on Germany’s Funke Zentralredaktion, The Wall Street Journal in the U.S., Norway’s Dagens Næringsliv, The News Movement in London, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Australian in Australia.
Understanding Gen Z
The report first offers insight for a better understanding of Gen Z’s news consumption habits and what drives those habits. Felps cites Reuters Institute report to profile Gen Z’s digital consumption habits, and McKinsey and EY research to identify levels of engagement.
Attitude and behavioral differences identified in the research reports:
Most Gen Zs turn to social media platforms for news coverage. WhatsApp and Instagram are growing. However, TikTok is becoming the fastest-growing network for news among its younger users. Forty percent of 18 to 24 years old use TikTok and 15% of them use it for news. (Reuters Institute)
Gen Z is very inclusive; they reject hierarchy and crave transparency. (McKinsey)
Making news more understandable and balanced is key to reaching this age group. (McKinsey)
Authenticity is a significant personal value. Issues like climate change, racial injustice, and health care are authentic concerns of Gen Z. (EY)
Gen Z doesn’t want more crisis coverage. (Reuters Institute)
Attracting the Gen Z audience
The case studies covered in the report reveal that experimentation is essential in attracting Gen Z. Two of the successful initiatives included areFunke Zentralredaktion and The Wall Street Journal.
Funke Zentralredaktion creation of a political TikTok channel is a strong example of attracting and growing a Gen Z audience. Funke used TikTok to introduce top politicians to the platform and asked them questions concerning the Gen Z demographic. The TikTok videos included serious issues but maintained a creative and modern look using filters, emojis, and sounds. The channel grew to nearly 70,000 followers in less than one year, with some videos reaching more than 3 million views.
Important lessons learned from Funke Zentralredaktion’s Gen Z subscribers:
Approach serious topics in a creative manner.
Ensure that the topic is relatable; find the right angle to address.
Meet Gen Z on their platforms, e.g., TikTok.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ),part ofDow Jones, created a student membership program to capture college students to create new readership habits. WSJ learned the great value of acquiring younger subscribers and creating a lifelong relationship with the brand.
Important lessons learned from the Wall Street Journal’s Gen Z subscribers:
Less news in more formats, offer alternatives to reading news like podcasts or videos.
Free and easy, meaning content needs to be compelling and cost-conscious subscription pricing.
Digital only and be present where they are – such as Instagram and TikTok.
Personalize to attract, engage, and retain this audience.
Hiring Gen Z in the newsroom
Another aspect of attracting this younger audience that the report covers is their critical role as content creators. One example offered in the report is that of The News Movement. Created by two news veterans, William Lewis, former chief executive of Dow Jones, and Kamal Ahmed, former editorial director at the BBC, the goal of this news platform is to commission and produce content by and for Gen Z. The News Movement distributes its content on Gen Z’s their favorite platforms (i.e., TikTok and Instagram) as well as on its own site. It also has partnerships with the Associated Press (AP) and others to help it produce content. It’s presently in beta.
Felps’ INMA report identifies new approaches for the news media to experiment with to attract Gen Z, like using video or podcast formats and creative filters.
To ensure future sustainability, media companies must engage with Gen Z to offer news that is more understandable and relatable. And, in addition to meeting this audience where they already are, by distributing content on the platforms and in the formats this generation prefers, it is also critical that media leaders understand that Gen Zers must be included on staff and afforded a voice in the newsroom.
True digital natives, Gen Z grew up with smartphones, social media, and video on demand. “Understanding Gen Z’s media experiences and entertainment preferences is a priority for publishers,” Michelle Manafy, DCN’s Editorial Director, observed, “ because they provide a proxy for the future of digital media.”
Not to be confused with millennials, Gen Z’s outlook and media habits are very much their own. A powerful demographic — and audience — in its own right, Insider Intelligence noted Gen Z is expected to constitute more than one in five (20.2%) of the U.S. population in 2022. With nearly 70 million tweens, teens, and young adults falling into this category, “Gen Z is the most racially, ethnically, and sexually diverse generation in history.”
So, what do we know about this demographic, and how can publishers best reach and engage with them?
1. Understand their social media habits
Given that this group was “born digital” it is no surprise they are active users of social media. One key segment of this demographic, teens, spends around four hours a day on social media new research from Piper Sandler shows. This latest semi-annual Taking Stock With Teens survey also revealed TikTok is teens’ favorite social media platform (33%) surpassing Snapchat for the first time (31%). Instagram ranks third (22%). YPulse’s social media monitor reports that, although Gen Z’s use of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat increased slightly last year, “no platform has seen growth comparable to TikTok’s in 2021.”
2. Create digital campfires
Gaming platforms and emerging social spaces also present some intriguing possibilities. For example, YPulse found Gen Z is more than twice as likely as Millennials to use platforms such as Discord (34% vs. 15%) and Fornite (25% vs. 10%). They are also less inclined to use products like Facebook (42% vs. 75%) and Facebook Messenger (42% vs. 62%) although that may change as they get older.
With roots in gaming culture, but not exclusive to gamers, Wilson argued, “digital campfires have become a force defining not only how Gen Z audiences connect, but also how they experience and shape the culture at large.”
“For that reason, marketers can no longer afford to ignore them,” she said. The same argument can be made for publishers and other content creators too. Twitter Spaces, live streams, and AMAs are just the mainstream tip of this intimacy iceberg. Other platforms like Roblox, Geneva, and Discord should also be on your Gen Z radar.
That means “you must earn their trust, as they need to believe in your product as well as your purpose,” according to Erik Huberman, the Founder & CEO of Hawke Media, a full-service, award-winning marketing consultancy headquartered in L.A.
For media players, that may mean everything from providing more behind the scenes stories on Instagram Stories, as well as having a more defined voice on issues that matter to Gen Z. Those subjects include climate change, social justice and the wider uncertainties faced by this generation; uncertainties impacting Gen Z’s economic prospects and their mental health.
Having a voice on such matters may challenge traditional journalistic concepts of neutrality and objectivity, but can be clearly seen in outlets such as VICE, Complex, and The Recount. These are publishers I find many of my Gen Z students naturally gravitate towards because of this.
4. Lean into theircontent preferences
Video, mobility, and short-form content all matter to this cohort. DCN’s research established the primacy of video. Gen Z values video over other media platforms by a margin of around 2-to-1.
More than half of their daily video viewing is on Netflix and YouTube (both 30%) Piper Sandler showed.The research also found 87% of teens own an iPhone; with 87% expecting an iPhone will be their next phone too.
“Gen Z typically have an attention span of just 8 seconds,” the IAB reported, “a few seconds shorter than millennials, who come in at approximately 12 seconds.” From Under The Desk News on TikTok, to Axios’ penchant for bullet points (a format they’ve trademarked as Smart Brevity®) and the emergence of audio “microcasts,” no medium is immune to this short-form trend. Given that it’s not just Gen Z with infinite sources of distraction and entertainment available to them in the palm of their hand, short-form’s prevalence is only likely to grow.
5. Find fresh ways to make it pay
“The number of those [Gen Z] investing in cryptocurrency in the US increased by a whopping 200% since Q2 2020,” GWI highlighted last month. This presents intriguing possibilities for outlets seeking new content verticals, as well as new ways to secure reader revenue.
As I demonstrated in a list of 231 Ways To Make Media Pay, publishers such as the Chicago Sun-Times, Time, and The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings) have already been experimenting with cryptocurrency payments. More widely, Gen Z’s propensity to consume media on platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify may mean they’re more in the habit of paying for premium content.
In a similar vein, the tipping culture manifest in parts of the creator economy also offers some fascinating possibilities. Publishers may want to tap into Gen Z’s relationship with influencers and above-average propensity to use platforms like Discord and Twitch where this type of functionality is baked in.
Lastly, as more and more publishers seek to add e-commerce into their revenue mix, the emergence of social commerce — and Gen Z’s growing habit of not only drawing inspiration from social networks but then purchasing products and services directly through them — is another area publishers must pay heed to.
Implications for publishers
For content creators chasing after Gen Z consumers, the data suggests it is important to be active on newer, more visual, video-led social networks like Instagram and TikTok. At the same time, YouTube remains the most popular social media channel used by Gen Z and the rest of us, a traditional platform many publishers do not make the most of.
And it’s not just social video attracting Gen Z. Spotify’s data shows that Gen Z (and millennials) actively use audio to access diverse viewpoints and to find out about social issues, potentially creating a space to dig deeper and offer more long-form content.
Embracing these platforms, certain characteristics of the gaming ecosystem, as well as the style and tone of voice Gen Z expects from much of the media they consume, is essential if publishers are to develop long-term relationships with Gen Z. Given their size and purchasing power, Gen Z is a group no publisher can afford to ignore.
Some differences between generations seem irrefutable while others seem little more than the function of age and maturity. Without doubt, we have observed the many impacts of digital transformation on Millennials and Gen Z. Yet, while the rise of digital ubiquity is certainly one of the most profound impacts on culture (and certainly media usage), we also saw the pandemic accelerate and impact a slew of trends. In an interesting twist, it appears that it may have sped up some digital media consumption convergence between older and younger generations.
The IPA’s Commercial Media Landscape report offers a high level view of the media landscape today. The report looks at reach, share of time, time spent, and usage patterns across the day of all commercial media properties in order to illuminate where shifts are occurring. In particular, it delves into how adults in Great Britain spend their media day and examines the differences between age groups.
One of the most striking findings of the fourth edition of the report is the changing nature of the relationship between the media consumption habits of 16- 34s and people aged 55+. Previous editions of the IPA’s report found steady declines in the correlation between the habits of these two audiences with a trend towards divergence. In a striking turn, the fourth edition finds a marked shift towards eventual convergence.
This seems to be driven by the fact that the 16-34 age group is nearing peak digital penetration as their patterns of consumption level out. At the same time, for those aged 55 and over, the advancement of technology usage brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in rapid digital media uptake.
Online Video has seen the most significant growth of any media channel over the last five years, and it now commands a greater share of media time than Live/Recorded TV for 16-34s. As with 16-34s, the reduction in time spent with Commercial Live/Recorded TV for 35-54 was one of the largest shifts from 2015 to 2021. In 2015 Commercial Live/Recorded TV took a 42% share of the curated commercial media day for 35-54s. By 2020 pre-lockdown this had fallen to 29%, and again to 26% in 2021 post-lockdown.
For those 55+ Commercial Live/ Recorded TV and Newsbrands (Print) saw increases in reach, share and time spent during and post lockdown. On the other hand, Social Media was the clear winner for 16-34s.
For commercial media in 2021, more time is now being spent with digital rather than nondigital channels. For all adults, the split has grown from 58:42 towards non-digital in 2015 to 46:54 in favor of digital in 2021. For 16-34s in 2021, 78% of all curated commercial media time was spent with digital channels.
As is to be expected, share shifted the most among 16-34s, from 76% commercial in 2015 to 64% in 2021 post lockdown. And although 16-34s are seen as the subscription spear-headers, they actually spent almost two thirds of their media time in commercial spaces, which is greater than the average adult.
Overall, the report finds significant evidence of increasing digital media usage for 55+. In the 2021 post-lockdown era, Smartphone, Tablet and PC Laptop combined now account for 33% of their total commercial media consumption time for this group, up from 19%. As the report points out, those over 55 had to quickly adapt to stay in touch, shop etc., which made them more confident about digital media and devices.
The areas of difference are still significantly greater than commonalities. Unsurprisingly, the report does reinforce some of the expected generational differences in media consumption.
According to the authors, “although it is encouraging to see an increase in similarity between these two audiences, it should not be missed that a correlation of 18% still represents an 82% dissimilarity between the two audience’s time spent with media properties and a hope of one-size-fits-all media plans in reality would be more aligned to one-size-fits-none.”
However, it does find a greater degree of convergence than might be expected. While this was likely accelerated by the pandemic, the report ultimately suggests that, for 16-34s, their level of digital media usage has become so high, there is very little room for additional growth. However, for 55+ there was — and will be — continued room for growth in digital media usage. So, while it is critical to innovate and experiment to attract younger audiences, it is important not to overlook the growth opportunities across generations.
The contents of your TikTok “For You” page, a stream of videos curated by the near-omniscient algorithm, says a lot about what you stand for, who you are, and what you like. It’s part of what draws audiences to the platform. When you open the app, you know what to expect. And, better yet, you know you’ll like it.
This type of personal experience is what digitally native audiences have come to not just enjoy, but expect, from the content they consume. If it isn’t authentic, vulnerable, and personal, they don’t want it.
So, when it came time to reimagine what video content would look like for Ascend, Harvard Business Review’s brand for young professionals, we knew we’d have to make it real. We knew we’d have to take a host-driven approach. And we knew we’d have to meet our audience where they are. On TikTok, yes, but also on YouTube, Instagram, and whatever comes next.
Appearing as on-camera hosts, being authentic in front of an audience of millions, and making sure that audience feels engaged — this is all easier said than done. Here’s how we make it work at HBR, and some tips on how to make it work for you and your audiences.
Authenticity and vulnerability are necessities.
Obviously, neither video nor social media was new for HBR in 2020. But that was the year Christine vs. Work marked the first show that we designed specifically and primarily for YouTube. This meant leaning into a host’s personality (in addition to credibility), embracing mistakes that make us human (the word “flawesome” is often applied), and creating a dialogue with our audience.
In each episode, I (Christine) address a real work dilemma, seek advice from experts, and then put that advice into practice (with varying levels of awkwardness). Although I feel like I “should” know the answers to my biggest career questions by this point in my path as a manager, I often don’t — or I’m not confident about them. In Christine vs. Work, I’m honest about that. It’s that vulnerability, which many can relate to, that earns the trust of our audience.
The same goes for Career Crush, another host-driven, YouTube-first series we launched in 2021. In this show, I (Kelsey) interview people with my “dream” careers to get to the bottom of what their jobs are really like. I dive into how much money they make, misconceptions about their roles, and whether they actually enjoy what they do for a living. Most of the time, I have no idea what it takes to get a job like theirs, and I don’t pretend that I do. After all, I’m not an expert in software engineering, or Twitch streaming, or photography. I’m still in my early career, too. So, the questions I ask and the ideas I uncover are based on things I’m genuinely curious about. That curiosity is crucial to creating a connection with our viewers.
A key element to making this work is to remember that you can’t manufacture “realness” and “authenticity.” We film in our own homes as much as the office (a necessity during lockdown), process complex emotions on camera, and are transparent about ourselves in front of a virtual global audience. It’s not always easy for us as hosts, but the human connection that forms from sharing our vulnerability is a lasting one. That’s particularly important for bridging the HBR brand to Gen Z audiences and reassuring them that we’re here for them in a world where it’s harder than ever to determine what is real and who to trust.
More voices, more perspectives.
We’ve learned, as individual hosts bringing our authentic selves to the fore, we’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. That’s precisely the point: We want our audience to connect with whoever they vibe with most. And, when it comes to host-driven content, that means diversifying the personalities, voices, and perspectives on our channels.
We put great care in our guest selection to fulfill that mission. In Christine vs. Work, we feature practitioners in addition to academics and thought leaders from around the world. In Career Crush, there’s no substitute for hearing first-person accounts of what it’s like working in a specific role or industry.
We also think carefully about the “faces” of Ascend. By design, our TikTok channel isn’t led by any single content creator. Although there are recurring familiar faces that deliver a regular dose of work advice and office humor, we encourage each presenting editor to lean into their distinct and authentic storytelling style. Plus, anyone in the company who wants to pitch, write, shoot, or star in a TikTok is welcome to join the party (a.k.a our weekly brainstorm). Who knows whose video will go viral next?
Lastly, we recently launched a pilot called HBR Presents on our video platforms. In this initiative, we partner with and feature talented external creators to share their expertise on topics like personal finance, early career, and email etiquette. The vision is to thoughtfully grow this creator network, expanding our offerings for an audience hungry for helpful and engaging content delivered in a relatable way.
To put it simply: You can’t have authenticity without hosts who are willing to be vulnerable. Expand your pool of hosts, make it diverse in every sense of the word, and never pair a host with a video or topic that doesn’t resonate with them. Audiences can spot an uniterested host from a mile away.
We’re listening. You matter.
What’s most exciting about our roles as hosts and producers is that we’re able to forge a connection, through our own voices, with our audience. Whatever platform or channel, we commit to reading the comments, replying as ourselves, and responding to questions and stories that others have shared with empathy and insight. We take viewer requests and incorporate them into future episodes. In addition to performance analytics and audience data, we’re able to synthesize viewer feedback to inform Ascend editorial projects across the board. With host-driven video, audiences keep coming back not just for the content, but for the hosts themselves. So creating that engagement — that direct connection — matters.
Long story short, we’re listeners, not lecturers. This philosophy defines our commitment as editors. We also represent a piece of Harvard, for an audience that demands — and deserves — a brand they can trust.
And if you find us on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, or Ascend, our goal is that you’ll feel like this content is delightfully “for you.”
About the authors
Kelsey Alpaio is an Associate Editor at Harvard Business Review.
Christine Liu is the innovation editor at Harvard Business Publishing’s product incubator.
Understanding Gen Z’s media experiences and entertainment preferences is a priority for publishers because they provide a proxy for the future of digital media. Already, according to a McKinsey analysis, Gen Z accounts for 40% of global consumers while a Barkley US report estimated that they hold $143 billion in spending power.
To gain insight into this generation, Digital Content Next (DCN) commissioned Seidmon Associates to research Gen Z’s attitudes, values, and behavior regarding digital content. Through a 20-minute online survey, they queried 1,556 respondents aged 16-40 between May 14 and June 5, 2021. Approximately half (792) of respondents fell into the Gen Z demographic, ages 16-24, and the remainder (764) into Gen Y, ages 25-40. DCN’s goal in conducting this research is to help their members better understand the way that Gen Z experiences content to build audience reach and engagement. Note that the research included a Gen Y sample to offer a contrasting perspective and a better understanding of Gen Z.
Attributes and access
High quality is the most important attribute that influences digital media brand loyalty among both generations. Trust is the next most significant attribute among Gen Z and Gen Y. And privacy and authenticity also matter a great deal to both generations.
For both Gen Z and Gen Y, mobile rules – with nearly half of both generations saying their phone is valued above all else. DCN’s research found that Gen Z values video more than any other media platform – by a margin of roughly 2-to-1 over social, gaming, music, or Google search. Both generations have more paid subscriptions for video than any other content type (a little over three each).
In terms of devices and hardware, the mobile phone is clearly most valued, followed by gaming consoles and devices. However, videogame consoles are second in importance among Gen Z, while laptops are second among Gen Y.
Video and attention
There’s a significant intersection here, as video is highly accessible at all times, given these consumers’ tendency to view it on mobile. Both generations see video as part of their social fabric and say that it is part of their daily conversation. According to DCN’s Vice President of Research, Rande Price, “That means that major marketing campaigns aren’t lost on them. Big announcements like of Marvel series drops on Disney+, the reintroduction of chess due to Queens Gambit on Netflix, etc. – these are all part of their social conversation.”
The research finds that, in general, both generations prefer shorter-form content. Gen Z attributes this to their “short attention span” while Gen Y value short form as a time filler. YouTube, Instagram and TikTok are most popular with Gen Z, while Gen Y prefers YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram (in that order). Both Gen Z and Gen Y prefer user-generated over company-produced digital media content by a 2-to-1 margin. In particular, Gen Z respondents felt that user-generated content was “more authentic, honest, and relatable” than professionally produced content.
As the report concludes, Gen Z are digital natives, born into a world with it all – social media, instant messaging, video games, live streaming, traditional TV and movies. Therefore, “understanding Gen Z’s media experiences and entertainment preferences is a priority for publishers because they are the future.”
The full report also covers a wide range of topics including Gen Z’s rational around paying for subscriptions, attitudes and preferences on news, ethical and social considerations, and more. DCN members can access the full report here.
Digital Content Next (DCN) commissioned Seidmon Associates to research Gen Z’s attitudes, values, and behavior regarding digital content. The goal of this research is to help DCN members better understand the way that Gen Z experiences content to build audience reach and engagement.
A 20-minute online survey was conducted among 1,556 respondents aged 16-40 between May 14 and June 5, 2021. Approximately half (792) of respondents fell into the Gen Z demographic, ages 16-24, and the remainder (764) into the Gen Y demographic, ages 25-40. Note that the research included a Gen Y sample to offer a contrasting perspective and a better understanding of Gen Z.
Research highlights include:
High quality is the most important attribute that influences digital media brand loyalty among both generations. Trust is the next most significant attribute among Gen Z and Gen Y. And privacy and authenticity also matter a great deal to both generations.
Gen Z values video more than any other media platform – by a margin of roughly 2-to-1 – over social, gaming, music, or Google search. Both generations have more paid subscriptions for video than any other content type (a little over three each).
In terms of devices and hardware, the mobile phone is most valued, followed by gaming consoles and devices. However, videogame consoles are second in importance among Gen Z, while laptops are second among Gen Y.
Both generations prefer shorter-form content. Gen Z attributes this to their “short attention span” while Gen Y value short form as a time filler.
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When it comes to media consumption, consumers have never had it so good. From streaming services to social media, movies to music and video games, to a variety of linear TV channels, options abound. With so much choice, comes inevitable competition for the providers, as they try to court the consumer. So how can media and entertainment brands form meaningful relationships with audiences? According to the latest Digital Media Trends survey it’s all about understanding generational trends – in particular Generation Z, who could cause the next wave of disruption.
The 2021 survey, which was conducted by Deloitte’s Technology, Media & Telecommunication practice, found that Gen Z demonstrate strikingly different preferences. Other research—and experts—back this up. Let’s take a closer look.
Boomers love streaming video while Gen Z is obsessed with gaming. The group, aged 14-24, place video games as their number one entertainment activity (26%). That’s followed by listening to music (14%), browsing the internet (12%), and using social media (11%). Only 10% of Gen Z said that watching TV or movies at home was their favorite form of entertainment.
“For the first time since we started this survey, Gen Z did not pick watching movies or TV shows as their favorite media. It was gaming,” says Kevin Westcott, Deloitte’s Vice Chairman and U.S. Technology, Media and Telecom Leader. “Obviously there was quite a bit of growth during the pandemic. Gaming is a social activity and a way to stay connected. However, video games were already significantly growing before Covid-19. It will be interesting to see if these preferences persist now that lockdown rules are relaxing in the U.S.”
With the dominance of video entertainment being challenged, media companies need to take a more diversified approach. Publishers should experiment with different storytelling techniques on social platforms, and gamification is a great place to start.
“If a media brand isn’t in the games business, they need to look at how they can make things more engaging,” says Westcott. “Gen Z are looking for more participation and this is where transmedia could help. By utilizing a range of platforms, the audience can interact with content and influence it, rather than just watching it.”
Beyond connecting with the world, social media is a common gateway for consuming a wide range of media content. Although all generations use social media, consumption varies depending on age. According to the Digital Media Trends survey, Gen Z and Millennials both rank listening to music as their main activity on social media. However, Gen X prefer to consume news. The second most popular activity on social media for Gen Z was gaming. For Millennials it’s watching TV shows and movies.
Interestingly, despite these social media usage trends for news, 50% of Gen Z still rank social media as their preferred way to get news, while only 12% select news from network or cable TV. Boomers are the opposite, with 58% getting their news from network or cable TV, and just 8% using social media.
According to a report by Flamingo, commissioned by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, younger audiences differ from older groups in terms of what they want from the news. Young people are largely driven by progress and enjoyment, which translates into what they look for in news. As such, they want news to feel easy and accessible. That means creating formats that are native to mobile and social platforms, as well as including these ideas on their own websites.
The report, entitled How Young People Consume News, also suggests that the news media need to change the way they report the news. This includes tackling issues such as stereotypes, diversity and negativity. It should also influence how news brands present themselves and their content on third party platforms.
A report by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), called Making sense. The commercial media landscape, found similar disparities with the way different generations spend their time on commercial media. Ages 16 to 34 spend 53% on a smartphone or tablet and just 22% on a TV. Conversely, those aged 55 and above spend 53% of their commercial media time on TV and just 14% on a smart phone or tablet.
“The way to drive engagement in younger audiences on broadcast TV is to ensure content is available across multiple platforms,” explains Simon Frazier, Senior Research and Marketing Manager, IPA. “Younger audiences are always media multi-tasking, which is a challenge for media. But broadcasters that tie in with a variety of touch points and blur lines between entertainment and reality enjoy good engagement and a good commercial performance.”
According to a report from VICE Media, in partnership with Ontario Creates, Gen Z is redefining how content is being discovered, consumed, and shared. Three quarters of respondents (75%) report that original content is important to them. Music, video streaming and video games are the top paid services, while cable or satellite TV subscriptions don’t even make it into the top five for Gen Z.
This younger demographic also wants more diversity. Half say that there is a gap in gender diversity, sexual identity, and ethnic representation.
Along with good content, they want ease of discovery. Gen Z were born on social platforms so they play an important part of their content discovery. YouTube is their number one content source, with Instagram a close second, followed by Facebook, and Snapchat. TikTok is also gaining popularity. Gen Z tends to like content on social platforms that is transparent, with few barriers between the creator and the audience.
“With new voices and new platforms entering the media landscape by the minute, the competition for young people’s attention has never been greater,” said Julie Arbit, Global SVP of Insights, VICE. “Combine that with a young generation that has never been hungrier for content or savvier about how to access it and you have a whole new approach to content consumption. Understanding this new mindset is essential for anyone who is trying to reach this young audience.”
The VICE study also found a massive 90% of Gen Z are willing to pay for content if it offers better quality (61%), better experience (56%), and more convenience (50%). Only four in 10 said they wanted an ad-free environment. However, with consumers losing income due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Digital Media Trends noted an increase in churn rates, across all generations, in the past 12 months.
“During the pandemic, churn across streaming more than doubled,” says Westcott. “We call it ‘hit and run’. So, they join for the hit show and then leave to join another service.”
“Instead of focusing on adding new subscriptions, media providers need to shift their focus to long term subscriptions. And the way to do that is to broaden their range of content, and offer exclusive, original, high demand TV series, plus games and music.”
Despite the growth of subscription-based services, IPA reports that 63% of 16 to 34-year olds spend their time using platforms that are commercially funded by advertising.
“This represents huge opportunities for reaching this audience through commercial media,” says Frazier.
In the same group, four out of the top five commercial media properties are socially driven. These findings were backed up by Digital Media Trends. They found that social media influencers and ads on social media are the two most persuasive channels influencing younger generations’ buying decisions. They also typically liked ads on social media more than ads in streaming video content and other channels. On social media platforms, 62% of Gen Z and 72% of Millennials would rather see ads personalized to their likes and activity than generic ones.
Despite these differences, there is a growing convergence of behavior across several generations of consumers, as younger age groups influence older audiences.
“Ten years ago, we did a study on Millennials,” says Westcott. “We thought, as they aged, they would become more like us. But that didn’t happen. Instead, they have influenced older generations, who are now behaving in similar ways. The only way they really differ is that 26% of Gen Z rate gaming as their favorite entertainment, verses just 10% of Gen Z and 3% of Boomers.”
It is this preference for gaming that could challenge video as the leading form of media consumption across all generations. However, according to the IPA report, there was a significant drop in the correlation between how younger and older generations consumed commercial media during lockdown 2020.
It found just an 8% similarity between 16-34-year-olds and 55+ during lockdown 2020. This was down from 21% before the Covid pandemic and 58% in 2015.
“What is clear is that the lockdown has undoubtedly reinforced the dominance of key media for the different audiences and exacerbated the differences,” says Frazier.
So, while media companies may still be video-first, it seems that younger generations are moving away from this platform. The question is, are media brands and advertisers prepared to follow suit?
After playing catch-up to evolve their approach to reach Millennials, marketers must move quickly to connect with Generation Z. This generation, born between 1997 and 2011, is estimated to count 2 billion members globally – approximately 27% of the world’s population. Gen Z will present unique challenges to marketers, adding to the already difficult slate of changes that a rapidly evolving digital marketing environment is presenting.
At the top of the to-do list for marketers is a need to gain a rapid understanding of the needs, aspirations and behaviors of Generation Z. To be accepted by this key group, marketers must develop mobile-led creative content that appeals to the generation’s imagination and passions for design and music. Marketers will also have to innovate to build better brand experiences and connected consumer journeys.
For Gen Z, development of more engaging content and more sophisticated, brand-infused programmatic targeting is critical. Less intrusive media approaches that will help play their part in discouraging ad blocking, which Gen Z is prone to. Finally, marketers will have to take advantage of new technologies that enable cross media placements that work together to drive synergies and deliver enhanced ROI. Marketers who most enthusiastically tackle these challenges and embrace these opportunities will lead the way.
Be True and Transparent
Perhaps most critically, while described as both frugal and brand-wary but also industrious and collaborative, Gen Z will challenge not only how brands communicate, but also the very notion of a brand’s authenticity and transparency in digital.
The reason is simple. Gen Z is one of the first groups to come of age in a post-linear digital world. They have knowledge about everything at their fingertips and on demand whenever they want it. They’re also emerging at a time of institutional instability. Consequently, Gen Z presents a conundrum for brands because they place a high emphasis on personal privacy but also expect full transparency from brands.
The Big Shift
Successful brands will need to embrace three paradigm shifts moving forward:
Brands should invest media dollars and focus activity in digital platforms that allow consumers to co-create a shared brand experience. Unlike the personalization coveted by Millennials, Gen Z will be hands-on: They want to try it, take it apart and re-create it.
Brands will need to give their target consumers a deeper look at themselves through owned media (social, apps, and websites). In addition to products and services for sale, brands must share their story, their purpose and details about their supply chain and production processes, so that Gen Z can determine if the brand’s values match their own. This narrative and underlying content will be further cascaded through strategically placed branded and sponsored content.
Brands should aim to shift their focus to right-brained influence. The foundations of the internet and digital media were left brain – with a focus on the linear, factual and linguistic. Digital media for Gen Z will be right brain with a focus on imagination. This may take the form of augmented reality and virtual reality. The emphasis should be on experience through non-verbal immersive formats and stronger visual imagery as well as emotion, emphasizing music and narratives.
These shifts, when embraced by brands, will help drive brand growth and increase the power of digital as a channel for brands to meaningfully connect with this audience, as it exerts ever greater economic power and influence.
Joline McGoldrick is Vice President of Insights and Strategic Marketing for the Media and Digital Practice of Kantar Millward Brown.
Not since the introduction of the television have entertainment and media consumption shifted so rapidly. It’s easy to overgeneralize that this rapid shift in media consumption means that everything goes mobile (particularly for younger audiences). However research we released last week in our Getting Audiences Right report, shows that the real headline is the extent of audience fragmentation across both media consumption and shopping behavior.
Nonetheless, this is not a disorganized fragmentation, rather we see that screen engagement coalesces around two organizing principles: the generation which an audience is a part of (we studied Millennials, GenX and Boomers) and the digital task which an audience member will perform.
The Audience Generation Generation is so important in how we understand media consumption and channel receptivity, because generation rolls up not only life stage events (career, children, and retirement), but also a set of beliefs that that cohort holds about itself (consider, for example, a 2010 Pew Research poll that asked audiences of these generations if they thought their own generation was unique, about 60% of Boomers and Millennials said yes, in contrast to half of Gen Xers). These life events and world views influence generations’ preferences for channels, devices, and even how they purchase.
In our Getting Audiences Right Research we see three generational trends emerge:
Millennials have moved to mostly mobile (particularly smartphones) and have moved away from traditional entertainment channels (like network and cable TV) for more curated entertainment (like Netflix and YouTube);
GenX is task-dependent and gender plays more of a role for men in entertainment consumption than any other generation (for example 68% of GenX men report using YouTube on a weekly basis compared to 47% of GenX women).
Boomers, who often pride themselves in their facility with and use of technology (31% of them shop online via their laptop more than once a week and 18% shop online with their smartphone once a week) still prefer traditional channels for entertainment (cable TV is still the screen they’re most likely to watch on a weekly basis — 68% of women watch cable on a weekly basis and 62% of men).
The Task at Hand Nonetheless, in the consumer path to purchase, all generations lean towards PCs as the device of choice.
Even Millennials rely heavily on PCs and laptops for shopping activity. The largest proportion of Millennials had searched or purchased consumer packaged goods using their laptops/PCs (39%) and the same was true for consumer electronics (36%) and financial services (31%)
GenX was most likely to use a laptop/PC for all purchase paths and were particularly strong adopters of laptops for the search or research of consumer packaged goods (49% of GenX had purchased or researched consumer packaged goods on their laptop in the past 6 months, compared to 27% having used smartphones for the same). Interestingly, GenXers use of tablets for CPG search/purchase was higher than that of other generations (20% of GenXers had used a tablet to research or purchase consumer packaged goods in the past 6 months).
Finally, Boomers shared a preference for laptops (54% of them have used a laptop in the past 6 months to search/research consumer packaged goods, 46% for consumer electronics and 41% for researching or purchasing travel).
All audiences stated that the primary drivers of their screen preference were screen size and the performance and speed of the device. However, our research also reveals that task time plays a large role in screen preference. Almost all audiences (81%) prefer to complete a five minute task on a smartphone. However, that percentage drops to 43% for tasks over 10 minutes.
The Message for Marketers Task and generation are so important because advertising is much more successful when contextualized and when the advertiser’s call to action can be heeded without switching tasks (or devices for that matter). We think that these findings give rise to the following three considerations for marketers:
The marketers who are beginning to consider how time shifting and on-demand viewing affect their full communication plan will be a step ahead, particularly with audiences under 50 (GenX and Millennials). The use-case for YouTube may be easier to grasp as marketers begin to understand the elements of good pre-roll, but the marketers who understand the role of advertising and the type of advertising that is effective in over the top will have an advantage.
GenX is the perfect generation for experimentation with a brand’s media mix, because GenXers still consume traditional television content (though more on cable than network TV), but have also moved to emerging channels like over the top (OTT). Given GenX’s omnichannel behavior, marketers must consider the ways in which messages can be sequenced across the channels. They must also be mindful of whether the content running on the channels ladders up to the branding objective for that channel.
Even though mobile resonates with younger audiences, Millennials (and the emerging Gen-Z (audiences under 18) still lean to laptops for lower funnel purchase behaviors. Continued expansion of and investment in the PC/laptop consumer journey is still essential in achieving maximum digital ROI.
Note: Millennials: Born after 1980 (18 to 34); Gen X: Born 1965-1980 (35 to 50); Boomers: Born 1946-1964 (51 to 69)
Joline McGoldrick is a Research Director at Millward Brown Digital. Joline was an early member of the Dynamic Logic Team, beginning in 2001 and is well versed in studying how audiences respond to Digital advertising. Joline is a product designer and marketer and a frequent speaker and panelist on understanding the digital audience experience. Joline’s work has been featured in Forbes, Adweek, AdAge, the Economist, Media Post, and Mobile Marketer and she has spoken at conferences including the ARF, MRIA, OMMA, MRMW, the Market Research Event and AdTech.
Joline is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Carnegie Mellon University