Gen Z — those 18 and under and the newest generation of interest for the media — have quickly built a reputation for lack of interest in watching television. Many have blamed (as they did with millennials, the preceding generation) a shortening attention span among young people. Millennials dispelled this myth with an aptitude for “binge-watching” full seasons of television on Netflix.
Similarly, Gen Z is countering the short attention span claim by spending hours every day bingeing on YouTube videos. Each video may be shorter than a full-length television episode, but the total amount of time they spend engaged with content cannot be ignored.
Here are five Gen Z traits and trends that the networks could use to lure their eyes away from the (You)’Tube and back towards that rectangular box that also used to be known as “The Tube.”
1. Mindless Is Not in Their Vocabulary
Gen Z is an incredibly driven generation. They are forward thinking and entrepreneurial to the extent that even as kids and teens, free time is thought of as time to build on budding talents, creativity or even business skills. Gone are the days of just “hanging out” in the basement, and they are interested in content that reflects this. They are interested in aspirational characters that live up to their standard of drive. Thematically, shows related to success and competition would likely appeal to this generation.
2. Cult Classicists in the Making
There has been a “return of cool” (and uncool) among kids and teens today. They’re not mainstream in any sense, but they do want to surround themselves with the right people. Gen Z-ers seek out content that they and a very particular group of friends can appreciate — with the knowledge that others might not “get it.” They will look for shows that do an excellent job speaking to a particular group of people — not just in content, but also in messaging. Shows that can develop a language that only their viewers understand will draw Gen Z-ers in and make them feel like part of the cool crowd.
3. Guys Are Back In
After decades of “Girl Power” and boys taking a back seat to the action, Gen Z boys want to find a balance of equality. The most successful content for millennials was content that portrayed the “alpha girl.” Girls were the ones with the fleshed-out characters, leading roles, and were often even the action heroes. Guys don’t want to see women coming out of those roles, but they also don’t want to be portrayed as the deadbeat characters of the previous generation. Something as simple as a full-fledged personality for a male character, or collaboration to catch the bad guy would capture the attention of Gen Z guys and girls alike.
4. Don’t Forget Diversity
Gen Z is the most diverse generation ever. They are expected to be the last majority white generation, but their diversity is not just skin deep. It extends to sexual orientation, gender identity, and the various ways they define themselves as people. They want content that reflects the diversity of their generation in the most authentic way possible. This means not just including a “token,” but really exploring the various backgrounds and identities that exist in the young people in our country. It means delving into the issues that accompany these differences even when it might be uncomfortable. They also want to open opportunities to actors of different backgrounds and identities, so this means no more straight white guys playing trans women.
5. What’s a Happy Ending?
Many have called Gen Z a very realistic generation. Truthfully, they go beyond realism, landing closer to cynicism. They are growing up in a world where there are “active shooter” drills in school; a world where they’ve seen the financial struggles and instability of their parents and older siblings; a world where marriage and divorce rates even make them doubt the existence of true love.
Television could be the perfect escape from this world. If it goes even darker to the point of monsters in the walls, it could make them feel like their lives aren’t so bad. On the other hand, a story of pure joy or utter silliness could allow them to forget, for a minute, the darkness of their own worlds. They are after all Snapchat addicts accustomed to putting filters on their own faces in order to get a few laughs.