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Gen Zers Know Reality, Want Positive Messages/Relationships

Content Insider #840 – Coming Up

By Andy

My entire generation is a bunch of mouth breathers. They literally have a seizure if you take their phone away for a second, they can’t communicate without emojis, and they actually think that the world wants to know that they are “eating a taco, exclamation point, smiley face, smiley face.” – Nadine, “The Edge of Seventeen,“ Gracie Films, 2016

An article we read online several weeks ago in the New York Times – made us say “thank gawd we’re not the only idiot in the room.”

The headline grabbed us because it highlighted one of the most famous living directors, Martin Scorsese, and Tik-Tok, an “entertainment” medium we’ve always thought was beneath professional filmmakers.

This came on the heels of a recent report out of UCLA – Teens and Screens, — that found Gen Zers really didn’t like so much sex and romance in their movies/shows but prefer friendship and platonic relationships instead.

It made us think, “OMG we really can learn something from the younger generation.”

The generation (13-24) is the first true digital generation that has grown up with an iPhone in their hands and ubiquitous access to streaming content and social media.

The young men/women experienced the Great Recession of 2007-09 and the pandemic of 2020.

In the US, they saw the election of the country’s first Black president, greater acceptance of people of different races, ethnicity and sexual preferences to the point of legalizing same-sex marriage.

But the thing that knocked our socks off was a second article in the same issue of the Times.  

The surprise came in an article – The World is Becoming More African (behind paywall) – as the population doubles (2.5B) in the next 25 years in African countries while birthrates are in freefall in richer countries as populations get older, smaller.

 Emerging – With its growing population, Africa will slowly emerge as a force to be reckoned with in business, industry and the entertainment arena. The continent’s filmmakers are moving to tell their stories and influence the supply and demand markets.

It’s little wonder that Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple and Disney are heavily investing in the local countries to win subscribers early and keep them as steady and long-term subscribers.

Perhaps more importantly, the area’s film/show community is creating some outstanding video projects to tell unique stories that the global audiences want to see.

Black Panther may have opened the door, but the African filmmakers pushed the door wide open with a series of new, different and really exciting films.

New Voice – Long overlooked as a film industry resource, African filmmakers are increasingly creating exciting and interesting films across the genre pool, including such products as Nollywood’s “The Black Book.”  

The Black Book just whetted our appetite to see a bunch of historical and dramatic stories that are scheduled to come out of Nollywood and the other film production centers in Africa.

Their films express the stories of a continent that is larger than China, Europe, India and the US … combined.

But it’s the widespread use of smartphones–670M, one for every other person on the continent–and social media like TikTok that enable people to express their frustrations to the world and demand change.

First Choice – Today’s Gen Z population relies on social media for its news, entertainment and conversations.  The generation was the first to be born digital and is influencing other generations.

It’s pretty obvious that the Gen Zs are a major sales target because they’ll be buying stuff for a long time.

More importantly, Millennial plus bosses are trying to convince them that they really care about them as individuals and that they should work for/with them at least a few years and should do more than just quiet quitting – putting in the bare minimum effort on the job.

That message seems to be a little hollow when bosses like Infosys’s Narayana Murthy and fellow “older” bosses say Gen Zs are young and healthy and should really lean into their careers and commit 70-80 hours a week to their jobs.

Why buy the stuff when you’re going to be working all the time?

Even when they spend time at home with the larger screen TV set, their smartphone/social media also shares their time.

They spend more time on their devices than they do with the big screen, according to Oberlo.  Actually, more than twice as much time as adults.  

Which one?

It really depends on the study you read.  

YouTube continues to be the leading “non-premium” video service they use to watch and create videos, catch up on the news (which increasingly is overcrowded with information/misinformation), learn how to do something new/different, learn about/evaluate new products/services and just escape.

Shift – Video social media sites set the stage for Gen Zs as they increasingly focus on diversity and equality without regard to race, religion or sexual orientation.  The sites are the first place they turn to with their video devices and where they spend much of their time.  

According to Pew Research, the majority of Gen Zs use at least one of the platforms almost constantly, but the usage will vary from site to site depending on what they are doing – simply get their minds off things, simply entertain themselves, interact with others, express themselves/their feelings or to present themselves in a certain way to others.

While TikTok is discouraged on a growing number of business and governmental employee smartphones because the company’s headquarters is in China and officials fear the government is using the service to access and capture private and personal data, this hasn’t stopped Gen Zs from making the service almost indispensable to the younger viewers.

According to Pew, since Gen Zs were born on the internet and have spent most of their time on social media – YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat – this is less of a concern and most “feel” they do an adequate job of monitoring and protecting their own personal data.

TikTok has quickly become an indispensable entertainment venue for younger viewers in a relatively short period of time.

Long, Short – Gen Z folks move smoothly between long-form content that meets their interest/taste demands as well as short-form.  To attract more subscribers, TikTok is also slowly expanding the length of content viewing.

The rise of TikTok’s popularity runs somewhat counter to the popular misconception that the younger generations only have the attention span for short-form videos.

The service initially limited videos to 15 seconds, which was expanded to three minutes and most recently began allowing people to upload 10-minute videos.  

While Morning Consult recently reported that more than 37 percent of the digital natives had never heard of Meta/Facebook’s Metaverse and 45 percent were only vaguely familiar with it, they were constantly on YouTube and TikTok.

TikTok is so popular with the film industry’s target audience that studios have been extensively using the second screen to reach the streaming/online audience. 

Always Close – Gen Z adults are never far from their smartphone screens that they use to educate, inform and entertain themselves as well as communicate with others.

Films like Top Gun: Maverick, Barbie, Oppenheimer and Five Nights at Feddy’s have run a steady stream of trailers, outtakes and behind-the-scenes videos to entice the age group to put seats in seats.

The site also has more than its fair share of 3–10-minute pirated show/film clips, even though the illegal copies are removed after copyright holders issue a formal request–but not before they have been viewed by millions of TikTok users around the globe.

In recent months, studios and networks have been testing the water by dropping short clips of upcoming shows.

Earlier this year, Peacock made the full pilot episode of its half-hour comedy series, Killing It, available on TikTok prior to its second season premier.  Available in five parts, the videos were viewed by more than seven million users which company officials called a whole new audience they wouldn’t have otherwise reached.

Because of their ability to retain viewers, TikTok is testing 15-minute videos and is rumored to be planning one-hour screen time trials.

The enhanced viewing time makes the site an interesting opportunity for indie filmmakers and even second-tier streaming services to get added viewership with ad support.

The streamed entertainment is included in a growing library of “day in the life” vlogs, test kitchen videos, makeup/lifestyle tutorials and scholarly video essay films – academic, cultural, intellectual and political.

The online video sites are also a great opportunity for actors, producers and others in the film industry to humanize themselves and show another side of them that people seldom see.

Never Too Old – Francesca Scorsese has been spending a lot of time on TikTok with her dad, Martin, exposing him and his work to a totally new generation of Gen Z viewers and showing them he is more than just the hard-edge films he is renowned for.  

For example, 23-year-old Francesca Scorsese, an actress and filmmaker in her own right, has involved her father in a number of projects to show the producer is more than just a producer of hard-edged – often violent – films like Taxi Driver, Cape Fear and most recently Killers of the Flower Moon.

One of her posts, which has been viewed over 2M times, tested his knowledge of the meaning of Gen Z slang such as tea (tell all you know), ick (thoroughly repulsed), sneaky link (booty call) and other commonly used younger crowd phrases. Yes, we failed her test miserably too.

One thing that did make us laugh out loud was when he said he didn’t know why people were constantly referring to him as a GOAT (greatest of all times).

To expand his knowledge in “the new medium” he even worked with her on a Bleu de Chanel commercial with Timothee Chalamet.

What we’re seeing is that the Gen Zs first choice may be video, but it doesn’t have to mean a show or movie.

It might be a different type of video on the screen of their choice.

Authentic – Members of the Gen Z population find it easier and faster to find content they can identify and relate with on streaming and social media video.  In addition; its faster, easier and more satisfying to view the content on the screen they have in their hands.  

Gen Zers were almost forced to grow up faster, learn things more quickly and adapt to/adopt what the world holds for them.  This is especially true of their culture, an environment which is dominated by media.

From education, communications, play and entertainment, they first turn to online media channels for news, information, content and storytelling.

But according to the UCLA study, they want original content (56 percent of respondents) rather than franchises (43 percent), adaptations (37 percent) and remakes (28 percent). 

More importantly, they want content that doesn’t rely on romantic, sexual relations idea/situation crutches – especially those that are toxic. They would rather watch content that encourages and projects a positive socio-emotional influence that presents a diverse and equal relationship with people who can beat the odds, live on their own terms and doesn’t necessarily end with the white guy reigning overall.  

 As Mr. Bruner said in The Edge of Seventeen, “Life’s about taking risks. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.”

After all, Gen  Zers were born into the digital age; and thanks to the global availability of social media and direct/unfiltered information/content, they’re aware of system injustices, climate change, shifting financial landscape and a world that tetters on the edge of endless opportunities and endless challenges/negative outcomes.

Their video content doesn’t need to reflect/reinforce what they know is out there and they face every day.

Andy – is an author of more than 800 articles on management, marketing, communications, industry trends in media & entertainment, consumer electronics, software, and applications. An internationally recognized marketing/communications consultant with a broad range of technical and industry expertise especially in storage, storage management and film/video production fields; he has an extended range of relationships with business, industry trade press, online media, and industry analysts/consultants.


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