I recently joined CNET covering TVs (hello!) and started by asking some friends a basic question: What do you look for in a TELEVISION? But I quickly realized I should have asked a different question: whether any of them actually own a TV. As it is, many do not.
I am part of Generation Z, defined as those born between 1997 and 2012. My friends and I have long relied primarily on personal devices like The telephones and laptops on traditional television screens for entertainment. My last apartments did not have a television in the living room. For the most part, my roommates and I stream content on our laptops.
But personal devices can’t do everything. People want TVs for gaming consoles and as an alternative screen to their computers after a long day of work or school. Plus, watching shows and movies with friends or family on a small screen is complicated and inconvenient.
Recent data shows that Generation Z is, in fact, less reliant on TVs now than past generations, but TV makers are adding new features to make TVs more attractive to young viewers. Experts I spoke to noted that greater integration between smartphones and TVs, including the ability to buy products seen in shows or movies, may encourage younger consumers to buy and use more TVs.
Phones surpass TVs in streaming shows among Generation Z
TO survey of 16- to 23-year-olds in the United States, France and Brazil found that the majority (50%) use a smartphone as their primary device for watching shows, according to Broadpeak, a technology company that designs and manufactures videos. delivery components. A computer followed as the second most popular source at 30%, with tablets and TVs each accounting for just 10%.
My first instinct was that this must be due to the increasing dominance of social media sites like TikTok and Instagram, which cannot be consumed through a television. But interestingly, Generation Z still spends a lot of time streaming. A survey by consumer research firm GWI found that Generation Z typically spends about 2 hours a day streaming. Therefore, their consumption of film and television has not decreased, only the method by which they watch has changed.
Focusing on the “streaming wars” – or on the content people consume – misses a broader point about as they are consuming it, according to Hub, an entertainment and television research firm. This company’s data, like the Broadpeak survey, also shows a strong move away from traditional television screens.
So what does this mean for TV creators and content producers?
The new frontier: Mean Girls divided into 23 TikTok videos
Some show and movie creators and distributors have adapted to capture Generation Z viewers on their phones. Paramount uploaded the entire Mean Girls movie to TikTok divided into 23 separate videos, for example.
Jon Giegengack, founder and director of Hub, said that with only 24 hours in a day, social media platforms and streaming companies compete for the attention of young consumers. There is a certain ease to social networks like TikTok that takes the decision-making task out of people’s hands, showing them content seamlessly and without the need to make individual decisions.
When you turn on your TV and navigate to Netflix, for example, you have to spend some time choosing what to watch, Giegengack said. TikTok eliminates that “discovery process” by showing you content immediately, while adjusting what it shows you in the future through its algorithm.
“TikTok has perhaps the best discovery process, which is no discovery process at all,” he said.
That’s a mode or ease of viewing that television hasn’t really achieved. Some streaming services have offered a “shuffle” mode, but it hasn’t had the same traction as social media platforms that offer frictionless entertainment. Generation Z is often known for wanting instant gratification, which this trait fulfills well.
Sharing accounts is easier on phones
Netflix recently cracked down on password sharing, impacting the way young consumers consume television and movies. A survey by YPulse found that 72% of Gen Z would rather stop watching Netflix altogether than purchase their own subscription, in case password sharing is no longer an option.
Interestingly, Netflix controls password sharing only on TVs connected to different Wi-Fi networks, not on personal devices, according to the company’s report. website. This means you can still access a shared Netflix account from a remote location using a phone, tablet or laptop, further incentivizing people to stream directly from their personal devices, rather than using a TV and having to purchase a full Netflix subscription separately.
Gen Z is buying fewer TVs now, but that likely won’t last
Younger consumers, ages 18 to 26, buy noticeably fewer televisions than older generations, according to data from the Consumer Technology Association. In its 2023 study of US technology ownership, which is the latest data available, 68% of consumers in this age group own a TV compared to 87% of all US adults.
This study also reinforced that, in general, younger people spend less time in front of traditional televisions than other generations. Still, there are some forms of content, such as full-length movies and sports, that they prefer to use on televisions, especially in a social setting.
But when asked if they planned to buy a TV next year, about a third of consumers ages 18 to 26 said yes, on par with other generations. This could well be because younger consumers are, for the first time, buying their own homes and equipping them with televisions.
So what will they look for in televisions?
Phone-friendly features (and purchases) can make TVs more attractive
Jessica Boothe, who led the CTA study, said she expects a shift toward greater interconnectivity between devices. For example, maybe someone prefers to use their smartphone to watch content when they’re alone, but they also like the option to cast from their phone to a TV to watch with friends.
Apple Airplay and similar screen sharing or mirroring technology is a form of interconnectivity between devices, and is already widely used. The nice thing about casting a phone or laptop screen to a TV is that it doesn’t really require any additional devices, plus it’s simple and fast setting.
Boothe also expects an increase in interactive features on TVs, including more e-commerce or direct shopping offers directly from the TV. For me, this conjured up images of traditional infomercials. But Boothe specifically talked about the ability to watch something you like in a show or movie and buy it outright. For example, you see a pair of boots you like on an episode of Emily in Paris and you buy them on TV. TikTok recently launched a “shop” tab that works in a similar way.
“If I was watching Emily and Paris, and I really liked their fashion, if I could buy that bag or those shoes, that’s how I really think about how that will come to life for me,” Boothe said.
Technology company Brightline released a report that found that 75% of respondents would prefer an interactive television ad over a standard commercial. Viewers not only have an appetite for personalized ads, but also ones that they can actively interact with rather than passively view. Interacting directly with programs in other ways, for example, placing sports bets directly on the TV, could also become more widespread.
“It’s kind of a build-your-own adventure with television,” Boothe said.
Boothe agreed with the Hub founder, saying that Generation Z may become more reliant on televisions as they become the “hub” or central command center of a home that can, for example, control a washing machine and a Ring doorbell system, functions that are already available on many televisions.
And televisions themselves could take on forms more suited to mobile devices. Samsung launched its SeroTV, which can rotate to display vertical videos, a few years ago. The idea of the 43-inch screen was to serve as a larger version of your phone, where you could watch TikTok and other content from vertically oriented social media platforms. Samsung said the TV was “designed for the mobile generation.”
Sero never quite took off, but its design gets to the heart of that idea of interconnectivity between devices that industry experts predict will become more important to younger generations in the coming years.
I have a TV now, but only by chance because my ex roommate forgot it when she moved out (yes, a full TV). But I rarely see it. Instead, I turn to my phone (and really, only my phone) for entertainment and utility alike. But as technology and TV functionality advance, I find myself re-evaluating how a TV might present and function in my life.