By Frankie Wallace.
Thanks to social media and modern live streaming capabilities, the entire world was able to watch the devastating April 15 fire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in real-time. That interconnectedness has become a part of daily life, especially among young people. Generation Z, or those born between 1996 and 2010, spend a large chunk of their day online, watching videos, sharing their own stories and opinions, and making purchases.
In fact, data from the Pew Research Center indicates that about 45 percent of teens are online “almost constantly.” They can be most often found on YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat, and many report that they enjoy being constantly connected to friends and family. These numbers point to a significant shift in how media is consumed, and the film industry has taken note.
In recent years, there has been a notable change in the ways movies are produced and marketed, in part due to the viewing habits of Generation Z. For example, the home-streaming service Netflix now develops and produces its own original films, allowing filmophiles to watch new movies without leaving home. Amazon, Hulu, and YouTube have followed suit, and these streaming services give Generation Z the opportunity to actively engage in the movie experience in ways they can’t while placidly sitting in a movie theater.
Movies as a Social Experience
It’s hard to feel connected in a dark movie theater that doesn’t allow for much interaction beyond facing forward and watching the screen, and Generation Z is seeking entertainment avenues that allow for a more social experience. According to Bill Alberti at MediaPost, the lack of social options at movie theaters is a big problem among Gen Zers. For today’s young people, the act of watching movies involves interacting with their friends, and traditional movie theaters don’t allow for that type of socialization.
Movie marketing is evolving to meet the needs of the constantly connected Generation Z. Production companies are beginning to target young people on one of their favorite platforms: YouTube. Along with numerous channels devoted to movie trailers, YouTube now features full-length Hollywood films interspersed with commercials, much like movies shown on cable television. Ad-supported free movies were first introduced to the platform in October 2018, and advocates of the medium call the introduction a “huge business opportunity.”
Indeed, some YouTube channels devoted to movies and short films have already found profitability among Generation Z viewers. Crypt TV is one such success story. Jack Davis and horror movie director Eli Roth founded the channel in 2015, and to date it has 2.2 million subscribers. In late 2018, Blumhouse’s CEO Jeff Blum, along with NBCUniversal, invested $6.2 million in Crypt TV, which will continue to expand both its offerings and audience base.
Harnessing the Spending Power of Gen Z
By 2020, Generation Z will make up 40 percent of global consumers, according to Ohio University. Therefore, their spending power is virtually unmatched, and film companies should understand the key characteristics of the demographic in order to better market to Gen Z. The generation is keenly aware of social issues, due a heightened internet presence. They tend to seek out employers with values and missions that are aligned with their own beliefs and passions. Their entertainment choices also tend to align with their social and political beliefs.
Financially, Generation Z faces an interesting conundrum — while they prioritize wealth and material goods, they also tend to play it safe where money is concerned. They have a strong awareness of student debt and are skeptical about future economic opportunity, so they tend to only spend money on things that mean something to them. Entertainment is no exception. Why would they pay high prices at a movie theater, for example, when they can spend next-to-nothing to stream a movie on a handheld device?
The fickle nature of Generation Z could account for the rise of film franchises in recent years. Once a movie studio has found a subject or character universe that attracts this vital section of moviegoers, they have little incentive to create something new. Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe are two examples of movies playing to their core audience, by continuing the stories of beloved characters that have already blown up at the box office, rather than coming up with fresh ideas.
Consumption and Entertainment as a Lifestyle
Generation Z is made up of “digital natives,” who have used technology for their entire life. Therefore, the consumption of entertainment and the use of social media is an intrinsic part of daily life, rather than an occasional activity. A strong internet presence gives Generation Z constant access to a nearly infinite array of entertainment choices, leading the film industry to find innovative ways to market their offerings.
Multitasking is second nature among Gen Zers, and they have a need to be constantly engaged. Further, the generation demands personalized experiences, whether in the workplace or realm of entertainment. Most members of Generation Z embrace what’s known as “hyper-custom,” where they can design experiences tailored to their unique interests and needs. They’re used to personalization when it comes to shopping and educational opportunities, which is why customization within movie and entertainment options is so vital. Streaming services and online viewing platforms such as YouTube can meet the customization demands of Gen Z, drawing viewers further away from the traditional entertainment experiences of cinemas and cable TV.
Entertainment is a form of escapism, and Generation Z — constantly connected to global news stories of famine, war, and political unrest — has a strong desire to escape from the real world. Conversely, online entertainment, from video games to movies, also keeps Gen Z connected to and actively engaged with the world. And while this generation would rather watch a movie on their smartphone or tablet than in a cinema, their passion and need to be engaged is helping keep the movie industry alive, albeit in a different way than seen in previous generations.
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