A Happy Medium

Teens’ entertainment diet is eclectic, particularly compared to other generations when they were teens. Teenage Xers didn't have social media vying for their attention; they just wanted their MTV. As teenagers, Millennials were just being introduced to the concept of DVR and media on-demand, and only the youngest portion of that generation experienced any form of social media during their teen years.

However, today's Gen Z teens have more media choices than ever to feed their entertainment needs with the advent of streaming video services, podcasts, streaming music channels, and social video. The dominant perception is that teens are foregoing traditional media such as TV and favoring new digital options, but, in fact, Gen Z is balancing new and old. They’re adjusting their entertainment diet on the fly to make room for all they want to consume—and they aren’t remotely as concerned about format as networks and advertisers are. 



While Millennials have adopted many new entertainment formats and added them to their consumption patterns, Gen Zs are native users, which contributes to their greater use of them. For example, teens allot nearly 40% of their entertainment diet to social media and streaming video, compared to Millennials, who currently grant a third of their entertainment time to these formats. Conversely, Millennials are more likely to indulge in live and time-shifted TV (which they grew up with), with 22% of their entertainment time being spent with these formats, whereas Zs only spend 14% of their entertainment time with TV. That being said, if you ask a typical teenager if they watch TV, he or she will likely tell you yes, and then immediately note that their favorite “TV show” is a Netflix or Amazon original, as we have found in our qualitative research.  

Gen Zs are format- and provider-agnostic. Teens have a seemingly endless number of options for accessing entertainment—many of which offer comparable experiences and even occasionally the same content or variations of shows—and they’ll choose the one that suits the particular situation in which they find themselves. They don’t mind if their favorite show comes from a streaming service, a traditional TV channel, or even a social media network, such as Snapchat, so long as it’s entertaining and easily accessible whenever and wherever they want to watch. To that point, nearly a third of teens (31%) revealed that they aren’t sure what networks created a lot of the shows they watch. 

As a result, video entertainment providers are having an identity crisis as they try to solve for the future. While Netflix is trying to become HBO before HBO can become Netflix, teen Zs have already decided they don’t care if the entertainment they like comes from Netflix, HBO, a broadcast TV network, or a social media network. MTV is banking on reviving live programming and youth’s persistent passion for music to give kids a reason to tune in, whereas The CW is crafting its own streaming experience to give young fans the access they want. These entertainment providers are fighting separate battles on two fronts: on one hand, they are trying to create killer content and on the other, they’re trying to increase on-demand access.

However, few have developed robust, seamless cross-channel strategies that offer killer content and always-on access across the multiple entertainment formats that comprise young consumers’ entertainment diets. What is Netflix’s strategy to develop entertainment for Snapchat? How will MTV’s next generation of live programming coincide with teen’s penchant for watching “reruns” via streaming services? 

For marketers and advertisers that want to win young consumers, the question is how they’ll adapt to meet this latest shift in the entertainment landscape, especially as they have historically been slow to embrace such evolution. As modern entertainment networks are challenged to develop strategies and programming that reflect the new reality of teens’ fluid entertainment diet, this will reveal unique opportunities for marketers and advertisers that they must be ready to embrace, even if the territory is uncharted.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on April 20, 2017, in Engage:Teens.

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