Gen Z spends half its waking hours on screen time. Here’s the good and bad news for Hollywood
This is the April 12, 2022, edition of the Wide Shot newsletter about the business of entertainment. If this was forwarded to you, sign up here to get it in your inbox.
Hollywood is obsessed with youth. That doesn’t mean the entertainment industry “gets” Gen Z.
Efforts to reach young audiences can take studios into disastrous Quibi-ish detours, echoing that “30 Rock” meme of Steve Buscemi carrying a skateboard and saying, “How do you do, fellow kids?”
AT&T had a vague and ultimately ill-conceived notion to use WarnerMedia content to keep the youngins glued to the Dallas company’s mobile phone service. AT&T’s failed foray into entertainment officially ended last week when it spun off WarnerMedia — home of Warner Bros., HBO and CNN — to merge with David Zaslav’s Discovery Inc. in a $43-billion deal.
But attempts to appeal to today’s teens and twentysomethings have also resulted in some groundbreaking hits despite high-level corporate foibles. HBO’s “Euphoria” (now the property of Discovery) comes to mind. The series is a massive success with younger audiences, in a way that historically has not been the forte of the very grown-up and prestige-focused HBO.
Given the uneven track record and the high stakes, it makes sense that executives in every part of the entertainment industry — including programmers, advertisers and distributors — are hoping to better understand what people are watching and how so they can peer into the future and try to stay relevant. The more we learn about what Gen Z wants, the more of a mixed bag it seems to be for the studios, networks and streamers.
The good news for media companies is that Gen Z spends a lot of time on screens. This cohort of consumers, born in and after 1996, watches an average of 7.2 hours of video a day, which is nearly an hour more than the 6.3 hours spent by Gen X, according to new market research provided exclusively to The Times. Assuming (naively, of course) that people get the recommended eight hours of sleep a day, that’s nearly half of young folks’ waking hours captured by brightly lit rectangles.
However, while typical 13- to 26-year-olds consume content pretty much all day, they are not watching in the same way as previous generations.
Their viewing changes throughout the day. The typical Gen Z-er’s media diet starts with casually scrolling TikTok and Reels in the morning, switching to YouTube around lunchtime and turning to Netflix or Hulu in the evening for the latest must-see comedy or drama, according to the survey commissioned by music video platform Vevo and media agency Publicis Media.
“Video has essentially become a friend to Gen Z,” said Laura Vanison, Vevo’s senior director of consumer and artist insights. “It’s rewarding. It’s keeping you company. It’s not just for relaxation at the end of the day once you’ve fulfilled all of your life’s obligations and duties.”
Much of Gen Z’s viewing time is dedicated to user-generated content — TikTok influencers and amateur YouTube creators — rather than traditional longform stuff (i.e. movies and TV shows). Nearly half (48%) of video watched by Gen Z-ers was made by content creators outside of the world of traditional entertainment professionals. Meanwhile, Gen X consumers’ viewing was 72% professionally produced.
In other words, while young people are watching more stuff, they’re not necessarily watching a lot more studio productions. Fifty-nine percent of Gen Z’s viewing was dedicated to traditional formats, including TV series, films and sports. That’s well below Gen X, which spends 67% of its viewing with those types of content.
Megan Halscheid, vice president of marketplace intelligence at Publicis Media, said the data can help advertisers better understand how to spend their marketing dollars to reach younger consumers by providing insight into what platforms people are watching, how they’re watching them and at what times of the day. The survey, conducted in November by research firm Rhyme & Reason, was compiled from online interviews of 2,131 people, all of whom consume at least one hour of content a week.
“Gen Z looks at entertainment differently,” Halscheid said. “They consider scrolling through TikTok as a form of entertainment, and that’s almost competing with some of the network content that’s being put out there. It’s personal and it’s self-programmed, and they want to see content that reflects them and their likes and interests.”
The results jibe with other recent surveys looking at generational change. In Deloitte’s most recent media trends survey, 57% of Gen Z-ers and 60% of millennials said they spend more time watching user-generated video content online than TV shows and movies on video streaming services. Just 45% of Gen X respondents agreed with that statement.
Young consumers present challenges for media companies. Gen Z is much more savvy than their elders at dropping subscriptions when they’re done watching the shows they wanted to see. More than 50% of Gen Z and millennials surveyed canceled a streaming subscription in the last six months, compared to 40% of Gen X and a mere 17% of boomers, according to Deloitte.
That’s why streamers are spending so much money to produce and acquire content. It’s why the newly combined Warner Bros. Discovery is expected to put content from discovery+ on HBO Max, why Disney+ is getting “Dancing with the Stars” and why Netflix is buying indie video game studios.
Gen Z has also shown that its members, particularly girls, can be a powerful force for making movies and TV shows break out. When members of this generation latch onto something, such as Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever” or “You,” they will not hesitate to promote it on their feeds. While TikTok is competition for the next “Euphoria,” it could also make it a bigger hit.
This is a generation that grew up with online video as a given part of their daily lives. These consumers are more diverse than their predecessors, in terms of race, gender identity and sexual orientation. These viewers demand material that reflects their values, and they’re good at spotting fakes and calling them out.
“You’re seeing these forces at play where people just want realness,” said Anthony Palomba, an expert in audience behavior at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. “It is a very well informed, very engaged, very plugged-in generation, and a very hard one to satisfy, at that.”
Stuff we wrote
— Fixer Upper: Corporate Media Edition. Can Discovery return WarnerMedia’s legacy studios and networks to their former glory? Discovery officially completed its $43-billion takeover of WarnerMedia from AT&T on Friday. Now comes the hard part for Zaslav, who goes from managing the home of “House Hunters” and “90 Day Fiancé” to ruling an empire that includes premier assets like Batman and Harry Potter.
Discovery has already eliminated the bureaucratic layer of executives AT&T installed, bringing Zaslav as close to the content side of the business as he could get without necessarily having to read movie scripts. Out, unsurprisingly, are WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, studios and networks chief Ann Sarnoff and HBO Max head Andy Forssell, in a sequence comparable to the “Godfather” baptism scene. Meg James lays out the challenges ahead for the new media and entertainment giant.
— What really happened after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars. Glenn Whipp and Josh Rottenberg spoke to more than a dozen people who were at the Oscars that night or had direct knowledge of what transpired. Through the conversations, some measure of clarity emerged.
— A Singaporean erotic OnlyFans star faces months in prison — and sparks a debate. Titus Low is the country’s most recognizable creator on OnlyFans. Low’s case has sparked conversations about social mores and the limitations of sexual expression in a country where sex between men is technically illegal.
— How Phoebe Bridgers found ‘fun in the darkness.’ Suzy Exposito profiles the indie folk rock star, and finds out what’s up with the skeletons.
— More news and notes: “Walking Dead” producers were dealt a new blow in fight for profits from the hit zombie show. Hollywood’s biggest union struck a deal with advertisers on new commercials contract. CAA acquired full ownership of CAA-GBG Global Brand Management Group.
Number of the week
Will Smith tried to get ahead of the story by resigning from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences before it could mete out its own disciplinary measures. But it was clear that the consequences for slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars wouldn’t stop there, as the group faced mounting pressure to act quickly and decisively.
The film academy’s decision to ban Smith from the Oscars ceremony for 10 years, which the actor promptly accepted, is significant not just for Smith but for the studios that are working with him. Apple Originals , fresh off its best picture victory for “CODA,” has a prestigious Smith project in the slave narrative, “Emancipation,” on deck for this year. This will surely affect the marketing plans for that project, which has been pegged as a potential Oscar play.
Smith can still be nominated for awards and doesn’t have to return his best actor trophy. There’s an ongoing debate over whether the academy went too far — or not far enough. If academy voters find the punishment overly harsh, a good way to rebuke the decision would be to give Smith another nomination. My question is, when does Smith do the big in-depth comeback interview, and does he go with something like “60 Minutes” or Oprah?
Paramount goes super ‘Sonic.’ Wizards lose magic?
“Sonic the Hedgehog 2” is adding momentum to the box office recovery, especially for family audiences, with a $71-million domestic opening weekend. The SEGA video game adaptation is now officially a successful franchise for Paramount Pictures, which has badly needed more of them. It also represents a belated win for former Paramount chief Jim Gianopulos, who was replaced with Brian Robbins last year.
The success of “Sonic” is the latest indicator that kids and parents are ready to return to theaters after initially being hesitant to go back and risk their health. This is a good sign for the June release of “Lightyear,” the first Pixar movie to get an exclusive theatrical release since “Onward,” which came out right before the pandemic clobbered the business. Illumination’s “Minions: The Rise of Gru” will be another summer test case.
Meanwhile, Warner Bros. is hoping for the best with “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” the latest of the J.K. Rowling-penned “Harry Potter” prequels. Box Office Pro is expecting between $40 million and $55 million for the North American premiere, which would be the weakest of the studio’s 11 trips to the “wizarding world.”
The “Fantastic Beasts” series shows the limits of extending a franchise without having “Harry Potter” in the title. The previous “Fantastic Beasts” movie was not well received, and it’s hard to recover from that. It doesn’t help that cast- and filmmaker-related controversies continue to plague the series, from Rowling’s anti-trans comments to Johnny Depp’s legal battle with ex-wife Amber Heard to Ezra Miller’s arrest in Hawaii. One would be forgiven for wondering if the Potter universe — a boon for Warner Bros. now spanning more than two decades — is a bit cursed.
Local shoot days ticked up last week after several week-to-week declines, according to FilmLA data.
You should be reading...
— Phil Lord and Chris Miller stand up for animated film as art. (Variety)
— Dave Itzkoff profiles Molly Shannon. (New York Times)
— Scott Feinberg proposes 10 ways to save the Oscars. (Hollywood Reporter)
— Chris Murphy demands justice for Lena Dunham’s “Girls.” (Vanity Fair)
— Ben Thompson argues that Netflix should sell ads. (Stratechery)
Call me super original, but I’m catching up with “Severance” on Apple TV+ and the hilarious “Our Flag Means Death” on HBO Max. More important, this animal video account may be the only good reason to stay on Twitter.
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