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Entering the Gen Z Zone

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A number of presentations at the 2019 Media Insights & Engagement Conference talked about the newest generation for us to worry about: Gen Z. Presentations or keynotes touching on Gen Z were given by Viacom, Freeform, ABC, TiVo, BBC America, and Zebra Intelligence/Ipsy.

Although definitions differ slightly, let’s use the delineation that this generation dates from those born in 1997. This makes the oldest of them 22 years old – and 22 is how old my son will be this month. I’ve been harboring a one-person Gen Z focus group for years and didn’t realize it! But I’ll avoid using him as an example, since researchers using their children’s media behavior as examples drives me crazy.

ABC’s presentation tells us that Gen Z, compared with recent generations, is distinct by its “Openness,” “Resilience,” and “Realism.” They focus on the future. They are proactive in positioning themselves for their own future, and in trying to improve the world around them. One of the drawbacks of this is they are much less likely to see themselves as “about fun” than the Millennial cohort was at a similar stage.

They are not just digital natives but mobile natives. They are just old enough that when they first got a cell phone it would most likely have been a smartphone (and the oldest maybe had an iPod Touch before getting a phone). Thus they don’t know a world without apps. They have come to expect apps as the normal interface between themselves and media, whether on a phone, tablet, or TV set.

Untethered But Not Un-TVed 

Gen Zs also may be the first generation truly seeing themselves as untethered from traditional television distribution like pay TV. Gen Z isn't untethered from “television” itself, but self-bundle across sources to get wanted content. Will they, like previous generations, feel the need to migrate to traditional pay TV as they reach lifecycle benchmarks like marriage or parenthood? Probably not.

But like any generation, compelling television (traditional or streaming) content that appeals to Gen Z will draw viewers, although it may be through a mosaic of access points. The Gen Z issues for the industry include how to drive discovery; how to measure viewership on a unified basis; and how to monetize that viewing, whether by ads, sponsorships, or subscriptions. So far, there are no silver bullets that address any of these issues. We Boomer/Gen X/Millennial researchers still have a lot of work to do!

Want to catch up on the conference? See 2019 session summaries for each conference day here:

  • Day 1 of the 2019 MIE conference: Day 1 (Jan 29 2019)
  • Day 2 of the 2019 MIE conference: Day 2 (Jan 30 2019)
  • Day 3 of the 2019 MIE conference: Day 3 (Jan 31 2019)

About the Author: David is an award-winning media research expert and author of “The Genius Box,” a new book about the evolution of the television-audience relationship. He is principal of TiceVision LLC, a media consultancy, and can be reached at

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