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Industry Insight

How the Most Connected Generation on Earth Challenges Traditional Content Distribution

Cord cutting has been a hot topic in the last few years, but Gen Z isn’t just moving away from cable and satellite subscriptions - they’re moving away from the concept of television itself. For the purposes of this article, Gen Z will refer to viewers aged 13 to 24, and older generations will refer to viewers aged 35 and up. 

In their survey of content consumption habits, Hub Entertainment Research found that older generations spend 43% of their total screen time on TV shows across all platforms. Gen Z spends significantly less of their screen time consuming TV, at just 17%. Instead their content consumption is much more evenly distributed across content like gaming, online videos, and social media. Screen time isn’t the only thing that Gen Z is doing differently. Gen Z spends almost 3x as much of their screen time on a phone as older generations who show a preference for the larger screens of their TVs. 

It's no surprise that Gen Z is threatening the status quo. They’ve already transformed the breakfast industry with their insatiable appetite for avocado toast, and the fashion industry with their wide leg pants and bold, Euphoria-inspired makeup trends. Why shouldn’t their content consumption habits follow suit?

Generation Z is not only the youngest cohort of viewers (iPad-yielding toddlers excluded), but also the most digitally connected generation to walk the face of the planet. It makes sense that they might push traditional television aside, for media that offers greater connectivity, immersion, and interaction. Take gaming, for example. In 2022 the global gaming industry generated $184B in comparison to the global box office’s $26B. It's hard to compete with screen time that offers not only characters and plot, but a platform to hangout with your friends, make new ones, and explore new worlds.

Offering viewers a universe they can put themselves inside of has proven itself to be profitable. Young people flock to experiences like Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge park, or Universal’s Wizarding World which allow fans to walk inside their favorite worlds. In the digital realm, you can see this preference for personal and interactive experiences in the popularity of the famous TikTok algorithm, of “stitching” content on social media, or the immense profitability of the gaming industry. 

In all of the discussion around the streaming wars, the industry has a lot to say about which platforms are “winning” or “losing”, but we forget that a huge amount of content is being consumed entirely outside of these platforms. By the looks of things, unless film and television distribution can take a page out of the gaming industry’s book, we will continue to lose out to media that is more immersive, interactive, and personal. 

Some film and television is already tapping into this. In the last few years it feels like for every two original films in the box office, there is at least one remake. Take, for example, the one thousand Fast and Furious sequels, or Disney’s revival of the Star Wars franchise, or recent hit series The Last of Us, allowing fans to relive a beloved video game of the same name. Viewers like a world that is familiar and that they can keep going back to. Disney’s Marvel takes it one step further with characters and plots that interweave throughout each film, allowing you to explore more and more of its own vast universe with every movie ticket purchased. The introduction of the Avengers films after ten years of successful individual superheroes was genius, but Marvel digs even deeper into their mega-successful Universe by bringing together three Spidermans in the 2021 film Spider-man: No Way Home. While some franchises are still working to build a universe, Marvel has created a multiverse.

The film and TV distributors who are able to win over Gen Z will be those who create their own “multiverse”. No, we don’t mean you need to acquire a cinematic universe and systematically release interrelated films over the course of 10 years. Few have the budget for that. Our advice is this - if you want to compete with Gen Z’s more diverse content consumption habits, you need to get creative. For streamers, this means bundling in strategic ways and thinking outside the (television) box. The bundle of the future might include sports, gaming, lifestyle apps, or even social media. For sales agents and distributors, we recommend adjusting your marketing strategy to meet Gen Z where they are. Embrace social media, create interactive content, and allow viewers to get inside your film’s universe, however you can. When it comes to acquiring content, look for films and series that allow your audience to dive into your world, universe, or metaverse. It's worth mentioning again here that the Berlinale showed us that the future, the climate crisis, and science fiction, were some of the favored genres this year. For filmmakers, make content that is franchisable, personal, and interactive. The time to explore the bounds of modern film and tv is now - we’ve seen interesting examples of this with Kaleidoscope this year, a series on Netflix which can be viewed in (almost) any order, with video game inspired The Last of Us, or with Netflix’s interactive specials like Bear Grylls’ choose-your-own-adventure-esque You vs Wild

The landscape of modern media is growing more complex, and we at MOLTEN are excited for everything that the next generation of media will bring. If ever you feel intimidated by the challenge of keeping up with ever evolving deal structures, rights models, and data - we've got you covered. Never hesitate to reach out and learn how your operations could be radically simplified. 

Photo by Giu Vicente on Unsplash