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3 Charts That Show How Young Consumers Are Using Content to Cure Their Moods Now

Young consumers are relying on media to get through this year—and turning to content to treat their stress and anxiety more than they ever have…

Last year, YPulse’s trend research Content Cure explored how Gen Z and Millennials have begun to use the media in their lives as an emotional tool, tuning into specific shows, videos, movies and more as an intentional mood-altering fix. Growing up in a media-rich, on-demand time when they’re able to choose whatever they want to watch, they’re using their moods as a guide, and intentionally turning to content to treat their stress, and more.

This emotionally-driven use of content was already happening before 2020—and our most recent survey on TV and entertainment shows that the trend has only gotten more relevant:

Back in May, when we asked young quarantined consumers what they were doing more of because of the crisis, “Watching TV or video content on streaming services” was the top response. But it’s not just because they’re bored—though that of course has also been a strong motivator. Gen Z and Millennials are even more likely to say that they are using TV shows and videos as medicine to treat their different moods during this time, with 74% now reporting they do so compared to 65% in 2019. We hardly need to break down why that’s the case. In a year of exceptional stress and anxiety, they’ve been turning to whatever emotional crutches they can. Our COVID special report on entertainment found that half of young people reported that they would be watching TV series and movies on streaming services to take care of their mental health during the crisis. As young viewers’ media consumption was significantly impacted at the start of the pandemic, YouTube saw a surge in views, and, according to a survey from the Channel Factory, 80% of consumers were going to YouTube to improve their mood. In fact, YPulse even predicted that Content Cure was a trend that would be accelerated by COVID-19, and this most recent data proves that’s been happening.

But it’s not just visual content that they’ve been increasingly using as an emotional outlet:

Music streaming got a boost early in quarantines, with Spotify reporting major growth in subscribers back in April. Our data shows that young consumers have been even more likely curate the music they are listening to on streaming platforms by mood, with 69% reporting that they make playlists based on mood, an increase from 61% in 2019.

But it’s important to note that they’re not just curating lists of upbeat tunes as a direct antidote to sadness. Our Content Cure research found their emotional relationship with media can be more complex than that, and often young people will turn to media that will help amplify their feelings to help work through them. A study from wild Nonfiction recently reported that “Americans use music playlists to purposely feel moods like sadness, frustration, loss, anger and regret….[and] 44% of Americans have listened to music purposely to “feel dark emotions.”

We see a similar trend when we look at the consumption of “dark content”:

Earlier this year, we found that 67% of 13-39-year-olds were watching uplifting and positive content during quarantines, and pure content, which was already an escape for anxious young consumers, was been thriving early in the pandemic, with social channels and new content focused on providing good news gaining followers and views. And young consumers still want those doses of positivity, with 77% agreeing “I enjoy watching pure / wholesome content.” But that number has decreased slightly from 2019, when 87% agreed with that statement.

Meanwhile, the number of 13-39-year-olds who agree with the statement “I enjoy watching dark content” has increased from 60% last year to 67% in 2020. The desire to work through their own darker feelings, or “mood-match,” by watching sad or less “pure” shows to is likely at play here. Horror has certainly been having a successful year, with streamers vying to release as much new scary content as they can. Dark content is a different kind of “medicine” during hard times, and qualitatively we have found it actually does improve many young people’s moods to watch less uplifting media. When we asked young people about watching an apocalyptic or pandemic movie during the Coronavirus, many told us it made them feel “good” or “better.” One 17-year-old male explained, “It made me in a way feel better, since seeing that the people were able to end the apocalypse just fine, reminded me that we can get through the coronavirus the same way.”