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Some of YPulse’s Biggest Predictions for 2021

YPulse’s forecast for 2021 includes streaming overload solutions, redefining wellness, and a roaring ‘20s experience rebound…

Every year, the YPulse team shares some of their biggest forecasts for the coming year. Of course, 2020 turned out to be a year that not many could have predicted. But even in a year of upheaval, many of YPulse’s predictions for the year did end up coming to fruition. More brands (like Allbirds) launched plant-based clothing while others made sustainability more of a priority. Instagram content changed considerably, with privilege backlash taking strong hold. Smaller and more niche social platforms did gain huge numbers of users. And of course, self-care in 2020 was all about getting a staying cozy as young consumers hunkered down in quarantines and made at-home comfort their priority.

So though many things about young consumers’ lives remain irregular at the beginning of this new year, YPulse has a new slate of predictions for what the future may hold:

A Roaring ‘20s Experience Rebound

Gen Z and Millennials are entering 2021 with a lot of pent-up wanderlust. YPulse’s 2020 travel report found that young consumers’ desire for escape still thrives—even if it’s been reshaped. The majority of 13-39-year-olds tell us that they are interested in taking trips and traveling to different destinations—57% are extremely or very interested. Their travel plans are not necessarily vaccine-dependent either: 64% say they’re interested in taking trips before there’s a vaccine for COVID-19, and the majority also say they have travel planned for after quarantine rules are lifted where they are. When we asked young consumers where they want to travel when they’re comfortable again, the list included some of their dream trip locations to faraway places, including Japan, France, and Italy. With their desire to travel and see the world stifled for so long, we predict 2021 will see a massive travel boom among Millennials and Gen Z. While this boom won’t likely happen in the beginning of the year as the pandemic continues to rage, once they feel safe, Gen Z and Millennials will be eager to book their dream trips. (Which, by the way, many of them have been able to save more for during their time at home.)

But travel won’t be the only boom we will see. YPulse expects that young people will be rushing to embrace experiences of all kinds in 2021—again, once they feel safe. As fragile and vulnerable as COVID-19 made them feel, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. And as much as Gen Z and Millennials have leaned into their homebody status during the last year, they also clearly miss experiences—which they were driven by pre-pandemic. Expect a forceful expression of vitality as young people get vaccinated and exuberantly return to planes, restaurants, concerts, festivals and more events and experiences that will feel like celebrations of life after the year (plus) most have spent staying home as much as possible. In other words, we could be on the precipice of a new era of roaring ‘20s.

Returning to & Redefining “Wellness”

Young consumers have made a reputation for being more health conscious and wellness-focused than previous generations, embracing workout culture, metric tracking, plant-based eating, and more in large numbers. Our trend 2019 trend research Wellness Intensified explored this in depth, looking at the ways Gen Z and Millennials were increasing their focus on their health and wellness in new, and sometimes extreme, ways. At that time, we noted a perfect storm of forces was converging to intensify their focus on wellness and self-improvement, including the desire for control over something in their lives, and peer pressure via social media images. Of course, in 2020 a perfect storm to leave some healthful habits behind was created as well. We saw drinking increase among young consumers, and many embrace comfort foods during a year of stress. But any hiatus from their wellness path was likely short-lived, with daily drinking returning to pre-pandemic levels and the majority of young people telling YPulse they want to start 2021 with a healthy body and mind. We even found that many actually developed healthy habits and changes during quarantines that they want to keep going in 2021. Expect the year ahead to include a refocus on wellness among young people, who are still looking for control and want to prioritize their health.

But we also expect that the definition of “wellness” is going to be broadened in the coming months. Several publications, including SELF and Fashionista, kicked off the year by questioning what “wellness” means, and asserting that the idea should be “reframed” to include concepts like community, environment, feeling “whole,” and being emotionally well. With inclusivity and mental wellness already major priorities for young consumers, it’s likely that they will embrace the idea that a narrow definition of wellness isn’t healthy and be rethinking what it means in 2021.

Streaming Overload Solutions

2020 was a year of a streaming boom as young consumers turned to entertainment platforms to get them through a tough year of boredom, sadness, and isolation. They embraced subscribing to multiple platforms, with YPulse’s entertainment research finding that the number paying for two to four services increased from 57% in 2019 to 69% in 2020. And of course, at-home film releases became a major trend, which shows no sign of slowing down soon. In other words, young people are choosing from more content than ever before—which is why we predict 2021 will be a year of solutions to help them sort through it all. When we asked young people about their entertainment overload, 61% say they have decision fatigue from streaming services, and 60% agree with the statement “I am interested in the option of letting streaming services taking control and playing content for me to watch based on my interests.” And we’re beginning to see a trend of content curation taking shape. IndieWire reported that after making on-demand viewing the norm for young consumers, Netflix is launching a channel of scheduled programming to give subscribers a more guided and curated viewing experience. The streamer is experimenting with “Netflix Direct,” a new linear channel “made up of scheduled programming featuring international and U.S. feature films and TV series available on the platform.” In other words, Netflix Direct will eliminate the chore of shifting through a mountain of content to decide what to watch. The channel is being tested in France, and according to the company “many viewers like the idea of programming that doesn’t require them to choose what they are going to watch.” It’s not the only effort to assist them in this area. Even more recently, some former Disney and Discovery executives came together to launch Struum, a platform TBI Vision describes as a streaming “class pass” that “is being designed to help viewers discover programming from an array of the estimated 250 niche SVOD streamers available.” The company already has deals with more than 30 existing services—providing more than 20,000 TV shows, movies, and short films to cater to “increasingly frustrated, underserved consumers with a simple way to find programming and services they are most likely to enjoy” through a single subscription. With Struum and Netflix Direct already in the works, we can expect more streaming overload solutions to be presented to young people suffering from content fatigue in the coming year.

Ambient TV

But we also think that overwhelmed young consumers will be increasingly looking for a different kind of content this year. With more young people spending days at home, the needs around TV and entertainment have been shifting. TV and movies still create cultural touchstone moments, but they also need to provide comfort, company, and easy distraction more than ever. Appointment TV has become a thing of the past—and now its near opposite, ambient TV, is on the rise. The New Yorker defines “ambient” content as “something that you don’t have to pay attention to enjoy but which is still seductive enough to be compelling if you choose to do so momentarily.” Netflix’s Lily Collins-led Emily in Paris (which went viral last year for, well, several things) is one example they give—”soothing, slow, and relatively monotonous” television with “dramatic moments too predetermined to be really dramatic.” More and more, young consumers are looking for things to keep them mildly entertained while they complete important tasks, or the comfort shows that they can keep on in the background. We predict that this content type will grow even more in 2021, as young consumers’ routines continue to be impacted by COVID, and their desire for easy escapes stays strong.

The Home Redefined

Post-COVID, Millennials are going to be forced to rethink what they want from their homes and what they want to be able to do (and not to do there). The pandemic forced young people to stay at home, and our research found that they focused on making their home spaces refuges, as well as all-in-one solutions. For many, home quickly became an office, a gym, a school, a bar, and more. We found that homes will need to continue to be more multi-functional post-pandemic. Over half of employed Millennials reported that they were working from home in 2020, and 62% agreed, “After the threat of COVID-19 passes, I would rather work from home than at an office.” We saw a similar pattern of those working out at home. 73% of young consumers are exercising in their homes every week, and 63% would rather workout at home than in public park, gym, or studio even after the threat of COVID-19 passes. They’re expecting more out of their spaces and needing their homes to do more for them. Multifunctional will be a major theme of home furnishings and design going forward as Millennials continue to look for their homes to play multiple roles. This is the next generation of home buyers, with more moving out of cities and looking for more space thanks to an unmooring of office life and growing families, so their redefinition of what home means and should look like will have major impact. Millennials, who have more spending power, and are more likely to own or be close to owning their own homes will be the first to rethink home functionality. But this reframing will likely trickle down to Gen Z as they prepare for a future where the “worst case pandemic” they’ve lived through has already happened and may happen again.