How Gen Z spent the year online and what it means now.

By: Yolanda Parks

Key findings about viewing behaviors and favorite platform from Magid’s 2021 Video Entertainment Study.

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Teen Watching Video Entertainment On Smartphone

“I watch a lot of Netflix and Amazon. Some days I just don’t leave the house,” says 17-year-old Piper. “I lose track of time a lot.”

It comes as no surprise that video consumption among Gen Z has increased over the last two years and has become a major part of their daily lives.

That’s just one of the many findings from the 2021 Video Entertainment Study, recently released by Magid, a research, strategy and consulting company. Twice in 2021, Magid conducted a study with Gen Z teens (ages 13–17) and their parents in the United States to discover what they were viewing and on which screens and devices, and how the pandemic impacted the amount of content they were watching.

But Gen Z weren’t the only ones stuck at home, says Molly Ludwig, senior vice president and qualitative researcher at Magid, whose work includes analyzing teen trends and behavior.

“We were all stuck, but we had lots of digital options to entertain us,” Ludwig says. “Some families made the decision to be more lax than they were before and allow for more individual entertainment time on devices because parents were working, and kids didn’t have anywhere to go. It [the use of digital devices] became a replacement for the things they couldn’t do.”

Since 1998, the annual study has explored consumer behaviors and feelings toward emerging video entertainment platforms and content. Here are some of the key findings and trends that the Magid study discovered.

‘65% Of Parents Of Gen Z Teens Say They Would Rather Put Their Children In Front Of A TV Instead Of A Smartphone.’ | Video Entertainment

Gen Z likes smartphones, their parents prefer television

“I use my smartphone a lot,” says Ben, who is 14 years old. “My phone is right there, it’s easier than having to get up, grab the remote control and turn on the television.” 65% of parents of Gen Z teens say they would rather put their children in front of TV instead of a smartphone.

Participants in the study, especially parents and caregivers, seemed to have a shift in the way TV viewing was perceived during the pandemic.

“For parents, it’s about visibility. If something is on the TV, I can see what my child is watching and they’re not on social media, it’s a more controlled environment,” says Ludwig. “In a generation previous to this, it was like ‘my kid is watching too much TV.’ Now TV has become family time and has taken on a different role in the family and in individual entertainment consumption.”

‘34% Of Gen Z Teen Respondents Said They Were Playing Video Games On A Daily Basis Through A Console, Computer Or On Their Smartphones.’ | Video Entertainment

The year parents embraced gaming

Social gaming increased for many Gen Z teens. Teens’ daily play of video games increased from 32% in March of 2021 to 34% by the end of the year, according to the study. Gaming on platforms like Roblox or Fortnite became one of the few ways for teens to connect and socialize while navigating their way through the pandemic, remote learning, and separation from family and friends.

“Parents who were previously saying, ‘Too much gaming, you need to get off your device,’ were telling us, ‘I’m so glad they have this because it’s the only time I hear them laughing,’” says Ludwig. “Teens were allowed to be loud and obnoxious, and they were yelling and happy. They had all of this pent-up energy that needed an outlet.”

‘80% Of Teens Say That They Value Being In Control Of Their Viewing Experience Anywhere, Anytime, On Their Schedule.’ | Video Entertainment

The streaming video entertainment generation

“I watch lots of YouTube and Netflix during the week,” says 16-year-old Dylan. I’ll watch for an hour a day, or sometimes maybe two to three hours. It depends.”80% of teens say that they value being in control of their viewing experience anywhere, anytime, on their schedule.

Gen Z teens in the study indicated that when it comes to streaming services and social media, they enjoy discovering new content, watching it on different devices and pausing it on demand whenever they want.

“Teens may have appointment viewing with their family, but when it’s their time, they like to have the freedom and control to watch whatever, whenever they want,” Ludwig explains. “This is the way that it’s been since they can remember, and it just makes sense for them. It’s not like there’s a paradigm shift; it’s just the way it is.”

‘74% Of Gen Z Teens Say They Are Likely To Talk About Their Favorite Video Content With People Outside Of Their Homes.’ | Video Entertainment

Social streaming and building digital communities

  • 74% of Gen Z teens say they are likely to talk about their favorite video content with people outside of their homes.

  • Over half of Gen Z respondents (55%) say they are likely to post about it on social media.

  • 63% say they are likely to watch new content based on recommendations from other people.

Magid’s study indicates that digital communities surrounding content sharing is mainstream for Gen Z teens.

“Teens like being able to pass something along to their friend or group of friends and say, ‘Hey, check this out,’” says Ludwig. “That's just how they live and they’re doing it constantly throughout the day, it's a nonstop thing.”

TikTok outperformed Twitter and Snapchat

One site that seems to be the platform of choice for Gen Z teens—before and during the pandemic—is TikTok. So far in 2022, 69% of TikTok users in the United States are teenagers. According a recent Forbes report, TikTok is topping Twitter and Snapchat in both popularity and revenue.

“On TikTok, I could be scrolling for maybe an hour or more without realizing it,” says 17-year-old Jonathan.

According to Magid’s Video Entertainment Study, the top reasons teens said they use TikTok is to laugh, share videos with their friends and discover new content such as new movies, new musicians, new products and more.

But TikTok is more than a place where teens can go for funny videos. The platform has also become a source for where they get their news and information. According to Ludwig, this presents a valuable opportunity for parents and caregivers to teach their children how to become informed citizens.

“Parents should be ready to have a proactive conversation with their children about checking sources and not sharing questionable material,” Ludwig suggests. “If your child comes to you with a news story from social media, embrace that moment. It’s important to have ongoing conversation anytime something major is happening in the world.”

Sharing streaming service passwords

“Yeah, I’ve shared my password with my friend,” says Ashley, who is 16. “I gave her my Netflix password because she didn’t have Netflix. My other friend gave me her Hulu information because she wanted me to watch this show, and I didn’t have Hulu at the time. I wouldn’t just give her information to someone else. I mean I would ask her first if I could.”

‘38% Of Gen Z Respondents In The Video Entertainment Study Said They Are Sharing A Streaming Service Password With Someone Outside Of Their Home.’ | Video Entertainment

Sharing passwords now seems to be common among Gen Z teens. The reason respondents gave were split between, “giving their friends a chance to see a specific movie or show, and for repeated general use.” Platforms like Netflix have announced they will begin to crack down on subscribers who do it. So how should parents address this important security issue with their Gen Z teens? Ludwig advises parents make the topic a part of a bigger online safety conversation with their tweens and teens.

“It could be something as casual as, ‘I’ve heard that a lot of teens are sharing passwords for their family’s streaming services with their friends. That would make me so nervous. You know that’s not something we would allow in this family,’” suggests Ludwig.

The checklist: What this means for caregivers

The uptick in video entertainment consumption during the pandemic could be a passing trend for many Gen Z teens, or for some of them it could be a way of life that’s here to stay.

As parent of a Gen Alpha tween (born between 2010 and 2025) and Gen Z teen, Ludwig offers these tips for parents concerned about their child’s increased use of streaming services, social media and gaming:

  • With social sites such as TikTok getting more credibility with kids as a source for news, have regular conversations about how to define credible news information.

  • Establish rules in your house about not sharing video streaming logins and passwords with friends, and make sure that kids understand the danger of sharing personal information—even with their friends.

  • Set expectations and rules around when your child’s smartphone needs to be turned off. Research shows that turning off screens two hours before bedtime can improve sleep quality.

  • Establish limits on how much time your teen spends watching videos or gaming, and adhere to it.

  • If possible, agree as a family on a time when the home Wi-Fi is turned off.

  • Encourage your children to put their phones away during “family time” and social activities. 

  • Stay engaged, watch a show or funny video with your Gen Z teen. Let them know you’re interested in their entertainment choices.

  • Children mirror the online and social media behavior of their parents, so be a good digital role model by striking your own personal balance with tech.

“Because kids and parents have been given so many options for entertainment and for communication during the pandemic, we’ve also been given the chance to curate what works best for us,” says Ludwig. “We’ve been given this glut of content, devices and usage, and now we can really home in on what we truly enjoy.”

What is your kid watching? Block apps, monitor content and cut back on screen time with Smart Family.

About the author:

Yolanda Parks is Executive Director, Content Standards and Client Strategy at Magid. She is responsible for developing recommendations on advertising and content standards; online safety; and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion issues.


The author has been compensated by Verizon for this article.

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