Over a Third of Young Consumers Watch Online Series—Here’s Where

Oct 21 2019

Gen Z and Millennials are watching content on their phones—but where exactly are they turning to watch online series?  

For the Post-TV Gen, social media has risen as a legitimate place to watch more than just clips of cats and teens lip-syncing. YouTube shows have been popular for some time now, but these days, Gen Z and Millennials are also turning to Facebook, Snapchat and, of course, the now-infamous TikTok to get their video fix. Seven in 10 teens spend more than three hours per day watching mobile video, according to Think with Google, and YPulse research shows that both Gen Z and Millennials are more likely to watch content on social platforms every week than they are to watch cable.

Accordingly, we’ve seen an onslaught of social media-only TV shows being launched by media brands, from BuzzFeed to Snapchat. New short video platforms are also emerging and vying for young consumers’ attention and existing social media platforms are attempting to make themselves more attractive to media giants to launch their own originals. Facebook Watch has a rapidly-expanding slate of content—it brought back the ‘90s era reality hit The Real World, and is now teaming up with ESPN to deliver sports content—and they’ve added a new feature that aims to make social media video viewing more like live TV, according to Tubefilter. Meanwhile, Snapchat has bet that short original shows will hold teens’ attention, partnering up with NBCU and stealing top Hollywood talent for scripted original series. Snapchat also recently launched Creator Shows, a new format developed especially for influencers to create series based on their interests. And then, of course, there’s IGTV, Instagram’s standalone app for vertical video which sets Instagram up as a YouTube competitor, according to The Verge. The platform recently partnered with Jonah Hill on an anti-bullying docuseries.

But here’s a big question: while we know that young consumers are watching content on their phones and on social media, are they watching the content specifically made for these platforms? There are many, many other types of content competing for their time: they can stream full length episodes on Netflix and Hulu, watch endless streams of clips on TikTok and Instagram, and bootlegged movies on YouTube, just to name a few. In other words, how many are actually watching online series? Here’s what we found when we asked them just that in YPulse’s recent TV and entertainment survey:

Our research shows that nearly four in ten 13-37-year-olds are watching online shows, with Gen Z and Millennials almost equally likely to do so. In this question, we defined online series as “shows that created for websites and online video sites (not cable TV or streaming services)”so the content that they can only watch on social platforms or online video sites. But these days, there are more of those than ever before, and we wanted to know exactly where young consumers are tuning in. Here’s what we found:

Let’s start with the obvious first: YouTube is still clearly king of the online show jungle—especially for Gen Z. In fact, YouTube is the only platform Gen Zz are tuning into more than Millennials, other than Twitch. We explored the importance of YouTube in Gen Z’s lives in our recent trend Growing Up YouTube where we found that the platform is the top source of media content among teens, who—unlike Millennials—probably don’t remember a time before YouTube. Their lifelong exposure to the platform has changed their media preferences and behaviors, and the next generation of YouTube Kids is being raised now. In our media consumption tracker, we also found that teens are more likely to consume YouTube on a weekly basis than any other platform or service, including Netflix. And, of course, teens are deeply invested in the lives of YouTubers—Gen Z is more likely to name an online celebrity as their favorite famous person, and 55% of Gen Z say they would rather spend the afternoon with their favorite online celebrity than their favorite Hollywood celebrity.

It’s also important to note that while it’s generally thought that shows on social media platforms are largely being created for and consumed by teens, our data found that nearly as many Millennials are tuning into online TV as Gen Z—and they’re actually more likely to watch across a spectrum of platforms. However, other than YouTube, most platforms have struggled to gain a real audience for their online shows. Views on Facebook’s Watch platform have been lackluster, according to WARC, making it less attractive to advertisers. In an effort to gain traction, the company is adapting its strategy to target over-30 market which, looking at our data, is probably a good move—only 15% of Gen Z online show watchers are heading over to Facebook, compared to 45% of Millennial online show watchers, and we all know that teens don’t really care for Facebook, period.

Though rumors of Snapchat’s impending demise have been circling for a while now, Snapchat saw a record spike in daily users this year, which, according to Social Media Today, could have something to do with its Snap Originals shows. After all, a quarter of young consumers who watch online shows are doing so on Snap, and the top Originals shows are seeing 20 million-plus viewers. Their most popular program, “Endless Summer,” reached 28 million unique viewers in its first season. (Compare that to the 19.3 million viewers that tuned in for HBO’s record-breaking Game of Thrones finale.)

Then, of course, there’s TikTok, which virtually blew up this year and has launched several teens to stardom. While at the moment less than a quarter of young consumers who watch online shows are turning to the short-form video-sharing app for series, the platform reportedly has over 500 million worldwide users, so we can expect to see that number grow.