Focus on Entertainment: Immersing Gen Z in stories, characters, and brands

Arguably the biggest entertainment trend we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic was the shift towards digital streaming. TV shows, movies, videos, games, and more created a shared experience that (frankly) kept us all sane. But another side of the story has emerged: too much screen time—fuelled by social media and virtual meetings—has led to visual burnout, especially among Gen Zs.

Studies show that too much screen time can negatively impact mental health among adolescents—and Zs say social media binging results in screentime hangovers. To counter this, teens and twenty-somethings are seeking alternative media formats, and they’re turning to audio. According to our Culture Next 2022 research, 45% of Zs say they enjoy listening to audio more than they enjoy staring at a screen, and nearly half (49%) say they pay more attention when they listen to versus when they look at something.1

We’re not saying that Zs are logging off from visual channels completely—far from it—but they are taking breaks. Entertainment typically relies on the three elements of “sight, sound, and motion,” but now more than ever there’s a huge opportunity for entertainment marketing to successfully challenge that status quo and provide overwhelmed audiences with visual breaks.

We spoke with Spotify’s Category Development Officer for Entertainment, Elana Sulzer, to explore the topic of Gen Z entertainment trends further, and how Spotify can immerse audiences in their favorite stories and characters through audio...

Q: Compared with previous generations, Gen Zs have different lifestyles, and different media and entertainment consumption habits—especially as they emerge from the pandemic. What’s the most important thing for entertainment marketers to know about this next-gen audience?

“First of all, Gen Zs are still spending a ton of time with visual products; they’re still streaming the shows and movies they love. That said, there’s also this counter-trend which exploded during the pandemic of young people taking more breaks from screen time—but it’s not as novel as you might think. Gen Zs were already consuming entertainment in a range of new contexts, from when they’re on-the-go, to when they’re multitasking, to in-between moments. Now, 65% of Gen Zs stream music everyday, while just 45% stream video daily, according to our Culture Next research.1 So, Zs have already had a more varied media diet than you might realize.”

In 2021, Gen Zs streamed music more often than they used other media (including videos, games, and TV).¹

Q: What does a more diversified media diet mean for entertainment properties whose IP was historically built around visuals?

“It’s not all that different—we’re still talking about telling a complete story, immersing audiences in content, and giving them a powerful experience. Audio-first storytelling can actually take audiences deeper into their favorite content. A good example is Batman Unburied, a Spotify Original Podcast, which uses the power of audio to draw listeners into the dark recesses of Bruce Wayne’s psyche. The podcast premiered in nine global markets simultaneously—meaning eight versions were adapted from the original English-language script, each voiced by local original talent and inclusive of adaptations to reflect local cultures. So, audiences had another way to engage with the world of Batman that was totally immersive, relevant, and emotional—with the added intimacy of being right in audiences' ears.”

Q: Beyond going deeper into the stories they already love, how can audio-first storytelling help Gen Z audiences discover new shows and movies?

“There’s a burgeoning new area in sonic storytelling that’s really interesting: audio ads. We’re partnering with studios to bring stories and characters into the ad space in really creative ways. For example, an ASMR-style audio ad for Nine Perfect Strangers was voiced by Nicole Kidman in-character as Masha, the mysterious owner of a health and wellness resort. It was made to effectively transport listeners to the calming surroundings of the fictional Tranquillum House, where the show takes place. Not only did it offer listeners the chance to discover the show; it also immersed audiences in the story in a creative way that only audio can. Audio ads like this are really resonating with Zs.”

43% of Zs say they like audio advertising because they can use their imagination to picture everything in their head.¹

For more on how brands can connect with Gen Zs, check out the full Culture Next 2022 report.

  1. Spotify Culture Next survey, MAR-APR'22

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