Future of TV Briefing: What video platforms VidCon’s Gen Z attendees are and aren’t watching in 2023

This Future of TV Briefing covers the latest in streaming and TV for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

This week’s Future of TV Briefing surveys the teens, tweens and twentysomethings attending this year’s VidCon on what video platforms they are — and aren’t — watching.

  • Overheard at VidCon
  • The future of TV viewership
  • Warner Bros. Discovery’s HBO show shopping, TikTok’s COO, YouTube’s indie filmmakers and more

Overheard at VidCon

VidCon — the annual Comic-Con for the creator economy crowd, now owned by Paramount — offers a focus group for hearing what teens, tweens and somethings are — and are not — watching. 

During VidCon last week, I interviewed more than two dozen Gen Z attendees about the platforms they watch most, to what extent they watch traditional TV and streaming services and their thoughts on the short-form video platform war and the potential for TikTok to be banned in the U.S. Here’s a sample of what they had to say — and for my read on what their video-watching habits indicate about the future of TV viewership, check out the video below (available first exclusively for Digiday+ members).

The platforms they watch most

“YouTube. We’re not allowed to have the other ones.”

“It’s usually Twitch. I really enjoy watching Twitch streamers because I don’t have to stop it. It’s just in the moment.”

“YouTube. I’ve been all over self-help YouTube recently.”

“Mostly YouTube because I listen to a lot of things when I’m drawing and it makes it easier to concentrate.”

“I do use Twitch sometimes. I use Instagram a lot. That’s my main platform.”

“I don’t really watch Twitch as much, but I’m starting to watch it.”

“I’ve kind of stuck with YouTube and then joined Twitch, kind of been there for a while.”

“TikTok. TikTok. TikTok. TikTok, yeah.”

“For TikTok, it’s the variety of everything. Like, there’s always a piece of everything on TikTok.”

“I’m always on TikTok.”

“Twitch and TikTok. If I travel, it’s TikTok. But if I’m at home, it’s easily Twitch.”

“YouTube’s always a great backup. Like, I’m listening to it right now.”

“I just think there’s a lot more content on [YouTube] that’s just easy to just sit and watch, just be a couch potato.”

“I spend a lot of time watching — I watch YouTube every day, and I love it.”

“Probably Instagram as well as just short-form .”

“If I’m wanting to actually pay attention to something, it’s Twitch. But if I’m just putting something on to just have something playing, it’s YouTube.”

“I’m on YouTube a lot.”

“YouTube. It’s where you can find the 10-hour documentary that you watch while you draw.”

“I use about 50-50 with YouTube and TikTok.”

“Twitch I like because you can get the live chat. You can interact with other fans and you get to interact with viewers as well. And it’s nice sometimes you just have something on in the background while you’re doing homework or working on a project.”

The platforms they don’t watch as much

“I don’t use Snap. I had to get it this year for a school function, but I don’t really use it anymore. And then I refuse to use TikTok. I only watch what my friends send me. It’s just too distracting, and I don’t want to consume media that I don’t need to consume.”

“I never really spent time on Snap.”

“I used to watch a lot of Twitch back in like 2020.”

“I don’t really use TikTok all that much…. Everything on TikTok just ends up back on YouTube or Twitter, so I don’t feel like I’m missing much.”

“I never really got into [TikTok]. I don’t do dances or anything like that.” 

“I do not [use Instagram] quite as much as I used to. Because of my own schedule. And also they haven’t done anything new. I could sound like a hypocrite for saying the fact that they’re staying in their circle — which I think is pretty nice — at the same time, it feels like it has stayed the same for so long where it’s kind of dying down.”

Tuning out of traditional TV — and streaming

“I barely watch TV, honestly. It barely happens.”

“I used to watch a bunch of traditional TV when I was younger. But now I just use the streaming platforms.”

“I haven’t watched cable TV since like Netflix came out and since YouTube and Twitch — I haven’t watched regular TV in a while. Netflix, a little bit.”

“I mainly watch Netflix out of all of [the streaming services].”

“I actually personally don’t have Netflix. But we did actually recently cut cable because of how often our new generation, like Disney+ and other stuff like that, has come in. So we don’t really do cable as much, but instead we use YouTube or we use Twitch or other platforms.”

“Over time as streaming came around and of course YouTube, Twitch, other social media sites became more than just what cable TV you see, it kind of just differentiated from it. And also because of my own age, I just never really watch [TV] anymore.”

“No cable TV.”

“When I am with my family, we watch Netflix, Prime Video.”

“I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched TV. Even Netflix.” 

“I haven’t watched TV in like five years…. When I moved out of my parents’ place and left the TV, I was like, ‘Oh, I should get a TV.’ And then [after] a couple months, I was like ‘Why? Why do I need it?’”

Aversion to ads

“I have YouTube Premium, so I never get ads. Twitch gives you ads for every single creator that you watch and you have to pay like every single creator if you don’t want ads.”

“I’ve learned that Spotify has a lot of ads. And although YouTube does have the ad-free [tier], which we do have, it seems like there’s so much more ads on other platforms compared to YouTube.”

Short-form video assessments

“TikTok is still the main platform when it comes to shorts or small stuff.”

“Between the three, I would say YouTube Shorts, TikToks and then Reels, in my opinion.”

“I do use TikTok quite a bit. I feel like over time it’s trying to become more than just what it used to be. Like, they’re trying to do stores, and I’m like, that doesn’t make any sense. Because it’s just a video-sharing platform. It’s not like Instagram.”

“I don’t have TikTok or anything.”

“TikTok and Instagram Reels, I think those ones are my favorites.”

“I think the other platforms, like Facebook Reels and Instagram, are more towards older generations, so then they can still experience things.”

“Instagram Reels, I spend like 10, 15 minutes on — max. Absolute max.”

“A lot of people send [Reels] to me, but I’m not really on there.”

“I feel like [YouTube Shorts] is very accessible for people that don’t have TikTok or can’t get TikTok. I don’t think it’ll ever reach the popularity [of TikTok].”

“All of them have the same format. Instagram, YouTube Shorts — they all have the same format.”

“I feel like [YouTube Shorts] could have been better in differentiating from TikTok as a whole…. Because short videos have existed on YouTube for so long now. Why would you have to make them look like a phone version?”

“A lot of Instagram Reels actually tend to be TikTok re-uploads.”

“[YouTube] Shorts, I feel like they just [are] kind of the rip-off version of TikTok.”

“No one posts on [YouTube Shorts], really.”

“I like YouTube Shorts because — I’m not sure, I just like how it is.”

“I honestly like [YouTube Shorts] because I have a very short attention span and it’s very short-form and I can just swipe, swipe, swipe.”

“I think Shorts are great. It’s definitely going to drive a lot more traffic to your platform [as a creator]. I’ve been playing around with Shorts, and it’s definitely gotten me a lot of engagement, a lot of new subscribers and supporters coming in.”

Is TikTok’s potential ban a big deal?

“We’re all aware. I know people are like, ‘No, please don’t ban TikTok.’”

“I don’t get too nervous about it.”

“I’ve seen it’s already been banned in Montana. So it’s crazy how dangerous they think that certain platforms are compared to others. [Me: “Do you feel like it’s dangerous at all?”] I could see how it could be, especially because we’re learning a lot more stuff than just within our country. But I do know that there so much more benefits to it compared to negatives.”

The future of TV viewership

Maybe my main takeaway from talking with the teens, tweens and twentysomethings at VidCon is how the way they watch platforms like YouTube, Twitch and even TikTok is often pretty similar to how previous generations watched traditional TV: something to play in the background while doing other tasks. For more on that, check out this video below.

Numbers to know

11: Number of Formula E races that Roku will stream live on The Roku Channel starting next year.

-60%: The upper limit of how much advertisers’ upfront budgets are expected to decrease this year.

36%: Percentage of share of Netflix’s U.S. watch time in Q1 2023 that was spent watching the service’s original shows and movies.

>60%: Percentage decline in net income for the largest U.S. entertainment companies since 2013.

$10: New monthly subscription price for Starz’s streaming service.

20%: Percentage share of Entertainment One’s employee base that parent company Hasbro has laid off.

What we’ve covered

BuzzFeed expands creator network to produce more content while keeping fixed costs down:

  • BuzzFeed is currently working with 170 creators as part of its creators program, 70 more than this time last year.
  • The contract-based relationships provide BuzzFeed more flexibility when it comes to managing content costs.

Read more about BuzzFeed’s creator network here.

What we’re reading

TikTok’s COO steps down:

V. Pappas — TikTok’s most senior U.S. exec — is departing their post as the ByteDance-owned platform continues to face regulatory pressure in the states, according to The Information.

Warner Bros. Discovery eyes Netflix deal:

Netflix wanted to become HBO before HBO became Netflix, and HBO’s parent company seems to be waving the white flag by looking to license some of HBO’s shows to the dominant subscription-based streamer, according to Deadline.

TV measurement group sharing grading rubric:

The U.S. Joint Industry Committee will score measurement currency contenders in nine areas and will certify measurement providers in four tiers, according to Broadcasting & Cable.

Paramount’s measurement ultimatum:

The TV network conglomerate has pledged to only support measurement currencies certified by the aforementioned J.I.C., a group that Nielsen has so far refused to engage with, according to Ad Age.

Meet YouTube’s indie filmmakers:

If MrBeast is the Marvel of the YouTube cinematic universe, then creators like Natalie Lynn and Ryan Ng represent the arthouse variety of videos on the platform, according to The Publish Press.


More in Future of TV

Future of TV Briefing: Why Yahoo’s DSP adding CTV support for Nielsen rivals matters to the future of measurement

This week’s Future of TV Briefing looks at how Yahoo DSP’s integration of three alternative measurement providers could help to shape the future of TV and streaming ad measurement.

Future of TV Briefing: 5 trends to track in this year’s upfront market

This week’s Future of TV Briefing looks at the changes that may — or may not — transpire during this year’s upfront cycle.

Future of TV Briefing: How TV and streaming companies’ advertising businesses fared in Q1 2024

This week’s Future of TV Briefing looks at what TV and streaming companies’ latest quarterly earnings reports indicate about the state of the TV and streaming ad business.