Ipsos MORI Thinks

New media / traditional media

In brief Gen Z and media

  • Communication and entertainment technologies rarely completely die. Instead they evolve and are supplemented by newer technologies, rather than being replaced entirely.
  • And that seems to be the dominant pattern with Gen Z’s media use – they are layering on more, and this is increasing the overall amount of time they are spending using any media, compared with other generations: today’s teens and young adults are exposed to over 13 hours a day using media – over two hours more than any other generation.
  • A lot of this is due to multitasking. Four hours a day are spent on two or more media activities simultaneously, double the amount of time we see with Millennials.
  • This reflects the fact that the big shift is towards interactive communication, rather than straight consumption. One third of Gen Z’s exposure to media is spent communicating, which equates to 22 hours a week, compared with around 15 hours for Millennials and under ten hours for Baby Boomers.
  • But while communication takes up a much bigger share of their attention, the time they spend ‘watching’ is actually pretty similar to Millennials, simply because they spend so much more time with media.
  • However, the nature of this ‘watching’ is changing significantly. Just a third of Gen Z’s watching time is spent on live TV, while for Millennials it is over half, and for Baby Boomers it’s around three-quarters. Paid on-demand TV or films and short online video clips make up a much greater share of Gen Z’s watching habit, even compared with Millennials.
  • This is mirrored in audio media, with the amount of time spent ‘listening’ actually pretty similar across Gen Z and Millennials. However, Generation Z spend only 29% of their audio time listening to live radio, compared with over half for Millennials, and 80% for the over 45s. Again, the gap is filled by more on-demand services, either streamed music or personal digital radio.
  • Reflecting many other characteristics of Gen Z, their use of social media is a layering of platforms, with flatter use across services like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. There has been a decline in Facebook’s dominance among this cohort of young, but it remains a vital part of their social media mix.


TV: Fitting in the rhythm of their lives

It is undeniable that the way we watch content is changing, and no more so than for Generation Z. The youngest members of the household have always struggled to get their hands on the remote control, so it’s no wonder that, with an alternative, Generation Z are watching less live TV and more on-demand content through video-on-demand services and YouTube.

But seeing other forms of video as a threat to TV, amongst any generation but especially Generation Z, is short-sighted. Other forms of video offer new opportunities to fit TV into their lives, to adapt and augment the TV viewing experience, rather than replace it. One of TV’s past USPs for advertising is the emotional connection it can help to build. But while this has shifted somewhat, there is still a role for TV to be the centrepiece, connecting different media experiences.

One way in which broadcast TV still sets itself apart from the competition is through its ability to create shared viewing experiences. Watching TV on a TV set is still every generation’s favourite way to watch.54 The heightened feelings and emotions when watching together are fairly unique to the TV set. For brands, leveraging this is vital to creating the strongest connections with consumers. Creating connections with Generation Z in shared viewing occasions, and then reinforcing them when they’re on their own, means digital viewing can lead to a stronger relationship. With Gen Z, the power of advertising is in mirroring the multi-faceted nature of their viewing and wider media consumption, being where they are, when they are there.

At the other end of the spectrum from these bite-sized, multi-platform connections, binge watching full series has also become increasingly important, as the capability to do so has increased. Gen Z are the most likely to get hooked binge watching – but also see the downsides, in time (and sleep) lost. Content providers have to find the right balance between attracting and smothering the audience.

Break time for radio

The death of radio has been talked about since the arrival of the television – and it has still not perished. Will Gen Z finally kill the radio star?

Again, it seems unlikely. In fact, young people have been the lightest consumers of radio for decades, but their listening increases as they get older. There remains a life cycle effect that we can see in previous generations of young, and Gen Z are likely to follow to at least some extent. Radio also provides a valued service to many young people now: for example, it is one of the biggest ways in which Generation Z say they discover new music.

Radio, more than any other media, is about convenience. For example, as Generation Z start driving cars, their connection with radio as a medium is likely to develop (as it has for previous generations). However, the increasingly commonplace ‘connected car’ does raise challenges. As the dashboard evolves and becomes ever more connected, radio has more competition in the space that has historically been something of a fortress for radio. So it has to adapt to survive. To continue to own this space, radio needs to develop better integration into other audio services and become synonymous with voice-activated technology.

The future of radio could be in more snackable pieces of content, so listeners can choose what they want, when they want it. Generation Z don’t tend to tune in to a broadcast schedule with any media. With their desire to explore and discover new music, short audio clips of different segments from wider shows would appeal. Ben Cooper, Controller for BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio1Xtra, and BBC Asian Network, has said he wants to create a Netflix for radio, enabling Generation Z to stay connected, but on their terms. This means making radio more accessible, in bitesize chunks, enabling this generation to explore, at a time in their lives when they are open to discovery.

The death of Facebook has been exaggerated – again …

Generation Z are particularly likely to explore a wider range of emerging social media platforms, in addition to the established social media brands, such as Facebook and Twitter. We see small declines in the use and time spent on Facebook in favour of Instagram and Snapchat – but Facebook is still a vitally important part of the mix. As with other generations of young people, they have competing desires to stand out, but not miss out. Facebook, with its reach and centrality to many aspects of online life, therefore remains a key part of a wider set of platforms, providing different sorts of outlets.

Facebook’s demise is therefore unlikely to happen any time soon, and it won’t be this generation which seals its fate – although the mix will continue to diversify. One of the drivers for this social media diversification is how much this generation has learnt about the long-term impact social media can have on your future. Generation Z are growing up more aware of the possible implications from broadcasting a point-of-view or certain image of yourself that you later regret, but can’t erase. Other services, such as Snapchat and Instagram, have seen success through features that control this exposure – and many of these are now being integrated into Facebook and other platforms too. These features hold appeal to a generation who want instant gratification, but don’t want their digital lives replayed to them in ten years’ time.


Generation Z live up to the claim that they are constantly connected. Ofcom’s Digital Day55 shows how on average, 16-24s are spending nearly nine hours per day consuming media or communicating digitally. This includes more than four hours of multitasking: time spent doing two or more of these activities simultaneously, for example, listening to music and texting at the same time. In total this amounts to an average of over 13 hours of exposure to media or communications per day.

A third (32%) of older Gen Z’s media and communication time is spent communicating (emailing, messaging, texting, calling and social networking) – more than any other age group. But that doesn’t mean there has been any drop-off among younger age groups in the number of hours they spend on other types of activities – they simply spend more time doing everything. The actual amount of time spent watching content is on a par with Millennials (c. 25-44 age groups): Gen Z still spend well over a day (over 26 hours) a week watching media. The major break is really between Gen Z and Millennials on the one hand, and the older generations on the other, who spend much more time listening and watching content.

Younger Gen Z (those aged 11-15) spend less time on different communications and media activities overall, due to the amount of time they spend in school, as well as earlier bedtimes, but they still cram in nearly 13 hours a week of digital communication (see chart below).

To view or not to view

There has been a decline in conventional TV watching in Britain, across all age groups, but it is particularly younger adults and children who are much less likely to spend time watching live TV. Compared with 2010 when Millennials were aged 16-20, older Generation Z now watch about an hour less live TV (55 minutes). And steeper declines among the younger age groups mean the age gap has become wider: 16-24 year olds now watch two hours less live TV a day on average than 25-54 year olds.

This is an international phenomenon. In both emerging and established markets, there is a large gap between the oldest and youngest generations watching TV on a daily basis. Three in five (58%) of Gen Z in emerging and established markets watch TV daily, compared with around four in five of Baby Boomers.

But this doesn’t indicate this generation is shunning TV content altogether – they are instead shifting towards different ways of watching. The 26.5 hours 16-24 year olds spend watching content each week is split more evenly across a range of different media. Over a third of their watching time (36%) is still spent watching live TV, but significant chunks of their time is spent on on-demand (both paid [20%] and unpaid [13%]) and short online video clips (14%).

Older generations, including Millennials, are comparatively more set in their ways in terms of watching live TV. There is evidence that the shift toward on-demand, streaming and online TV watching is being spearheaded by Generation Z. Three quarters (76%) of young people aged 16-24 use an online subscription streaming service (Netflix, Now TV and the like), compared with fewer than one in five (19%) older people aged 65 and over.56 In the US, seven in ten (70%) Generation Z now access a subscription service. It seems that this demand is to the disadvantage of pay TV options, such as Sky and Virgin TV. A third (31%) of Gen Z have terminated their pay TV contracts in the past 12 months.57

Generations are also divided in the way they watch TV. Binge-watching TV is a habit much more prevalent among the young.58 More than half (53%) of those aged 12-15 enjoy weekly binge sessions, compared with just 16% of over-65s. For that older age group, more than half (59%) prefer the traditional release method of one episode per week.

This bingeing is not just on whole series, but also short online clips, as seen in the generationally driven growth of YouTube, making it the most recognised content provider of fourteen brand examples shown to 12-15 year olds (94% recognised it), which was higher than BBC channels (82%).

Skip to the beat

Overall, the average amount of time spent ‘listening’ is fairly consistent across those aged 16-44, but how they get their content is very different. Whilst the dominance of radio is unchanged in the over-45s, younger generations are open to a much wider variety of sources. Just 29% of 16-24s’ listening time is spent listening to live radio, half the proportion of time spent by 25-34 year olds (59%), and only about a third of the oldest age group. Yet, they are far more likely to listen to audio by streaming music (about a quarter of their time) and listening via personal digital radios.

However, radio still has an important role to play in music discovery for younger people, but preferences may just have shifted online. In the US, 58% of 13-17 year olds listen to broadcast AM/FM radio, and although regular listeners have fallen over the past ten years (from 73% in 2007), the number of listeners to free online radio has increased. In 2007, 30% of 13-17 year olds listened to free online radio, by 2017 this had nearly doubled to 56%.59
Back in the UK, 18% of 9-14 year olds claim to use podcasts weekly.60 So even with this younger age group, there is potential for increased engagement with radio content in the future through the exploration of different delivery methods.

Digital readers

The differences in how Gen Z consume media is also emphasised in how they read newspapers and magazines. The figures for monthly reach of all publications in either digital or hard copy is actually very similar across all generations, with around nine in ten seeing at least one hard copy or clicking on a news site at least once a month. But the split between these two is very different, with only 54% of Gen Z seeing a hard copy, compared with 64% of Millennials and 79% of Baby Boomers.

And in the other direction, only 24% of the Pre-War generation interact with publications online, although digital access is becoming more normal for Baby Boomers, with 62% seeing at least one online story a month.

The evolution of digital communications

The spread of social media has massively changed how people of all ages communicate with each other – but it was Millennials who lived through the forefront of this rapid uptake and change. In 2007, just 54% of 16-24 year olds (older Millennials) had at least one social media profile, but by 2011 90% of the youngest Millennials (aged 16-24) had a social media profile.61 This has since been entirely normalised for Gen Z as they come into their teenage years, with over nine in ten having at least one social media account.

But while access has stabilised, the use of different social media platforms is becoming more divided and varied by age, with use already more diversified within Generation Z than previous generations of young. Looking at the US in 2014, research from Pew shows Facebook dominated the social media landscape amongst the oldest Gen Z (then 13-17 years old). Seven in ten (71%) used Facebook, with no other platform coming close. About half used Instagram (52%) and 41% used Snapchat. Now in 2018, there’s been a reversal, with 72% of 13-17 year olds using Instagram, 69% using Snapchat and just half (51%) using Facebook.62

Our Ipsos Tech Tracker data in Britain suggests a similar picture – with younger Gen Z more likely to use Snapchat and Instagram. Looking at recent usage (in the last three months), half (50%) of 15-19 year olds have been on Instagram, whilst just 38% of 20-24 year olds have used it in the same period. Facebook, meanwhile, is more likely to be used by 20-24 year olds (56% have been on Facebook in the last three months compared with 52% of 15-19 year olds). As with so much of Gen Z’s behaviour and attitudes, the picture is of variety and diversity. But it’s also worth noting that 63% of 16-24 year olds in the UK still consider Facebook their ‘main’ social media account.63

So it’s true that Gen Z are often at the forefront of emerging tech and new media, but there are some types of tech that, arguably, are not such a natural fit with the way young people today use digital platforms. Take voice interfaces – a burgeoning type of tech that aims to connect humans with devices through voice. Virtual assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant, aim to mimic human conversation. As a rapidly expanding sector, you might assume that Gen Z are one of the most receptive groups to this type of device. But not so. Only 9% of Gen Z use voice assistants on a daily basis.64

This may be partly to do with age. As with their relationship with radio, their usage of voice interfaces may be affected by mostly not being old enough to drive – therefore having less of a need to use hands-free tech. But there’s also arguably a barrier in the way Gen Z have grown up with tech. They’re frequent texters – 57% of them use messaging apps at least half the time they are on their phone. Voice recognition can’t yet keep up with the speed and accuracy they can achieve through text. And texting now has a wealth of ways to express emotion such as emojis or gifs, which, again, voice recognition can’t yet replicate. Other advantages of texting – such as being able to have multiple conversations at the same time, or have private conversations while still being in shared environments – are also things that voice interface can’t yet deliver.

But there’s no doubt that Gen Z will adopt voice interfaces – everyone will. Voice interfaces will continue to develop and will (sooner rather than later) reach the same levels of efficiency that Gen Z can achieve via text. But Gen Z have grown up texting, and that’s what they prefer – at least for now. The generation after them could be the first tech voice natives.


No one person consumes media in the exact same way as the next. Each individual has an ecosystem of media tailored to them. This is nowhere truer than with Generation Z. The amount of time this generation spend connected surpasses all other generations, at this moment in time but also when older generations were the same age. But this is mainly because the landscape has changed so much, moving media from living rooms and cars to the whole of our lives, not because of something innate in this generation.

It’s not a surprise, therefore, that traditional media is not being replaced outright, it is being layered with new media. From radio to social media, there is room for multiple media channels to have influence and recognition in Gen Z’s ecosystem.

As media evolves, the youngest generation is often the one which adapts quickest; they are interested in the new, and still have time to change and form their habits. For Generation Z, they are inundated with choice in terms of how they consume different types of media. But, for this generation, the defining principle is not that they watch, listen and read stuff in a different way. The thing that defines them is how communication, something which can rely on no media whatsoever, has infiltrated their lives.

There are many models of communication that attempt to sum up the era we’re living in – for example, that we’ve moved from ‘one-to-many’ broadcast approaches to ‘many-to-many’ social media environments, or even from ‘many-to-one’ personalised communications. But with Gen Z the reality is again less binary than these distinct models suggest: those who can blend these different experiences will succeed.

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