Industry Voices: Bard—What Shark Week taught me about reaching Gen Z viewers

(Discovery Inc.)
Industry Voices Mike Bard

In my early teens, I wanted to be a marine biologist as TV programming, featuring Jacques Cousteau and cool underwater vehicles, glorified this type of profession and made it fun to learn about the oceans. The classroom science was not as fun or easy, so as you can imagine, my path changed. However, my love for the water has not. These days, I spend as much time as possible on and around the water and each summer, I celebrate Shark Week like the weeklong holiday it should be, never missing an episode and taking in all the extras offered up. If you are still reading, you are likely thinking who cares… so let me get to the point.

Shark Week really got me thinking this year about more than sharks; as I watched night after night and viewed my various social media streams, I realized that it’s more than sharks that has kept it going for nearly 30 years. Discovery does a great job using various media channels and tactics to attract and engage viewers. In the research my firm has done with our video entertainment partners, we have learned that audiences segmented by age or generation are looking for and viewing video differently. In particular, Gen Z stands apart from Millennials and Gen X. 

As Gen Z’s influence on purchases increases, it’s not only important to ensure they see your messaging, but you need to make sure that the message you are conveying captivates this particular audience. Here are a few facts from a recent study we conducted to keep in mind as you plan for the future of video entertainment.

  • It is all about streaming and social videos for Gen Z. When asked which type of video content they couldn’t live without, 46% of Gen Z told us subscription streaming services and another 38% said social videos.* The combination of Millennials and Gen X agree on subscription streaming services, but only 18% put social videos on their pedestal.
  • Nearly half of Gen Z social video viewers look at social media influencers/YouTubers as celebrities. Only 28% of Millennials and Gen X agree.
  • Social media influencers and YouTubers carry a significant power, and Gen Z views them as more than just entertainers, but as trusted friends and advisors. We asked consumers how likely they would be to perform several different activities based on social media influencers/YouTubers and Gen Z again stood out. 75% of Gen Z is likely to watch a TV show or movie starring their favorite influencer/YouTuber; 64% of Gen Z is likely to watch a TV show or movie endorsed by their favorite influencer/YouTuber; and 37% of Gen Z would be influenced to purchase merchandise endorsed by their favorite influencer/YouTuber.

Now, let’s shift focus back to what caused you to click on this article in the first place, Shark Week, and highlight some takeaways from my recent viewing that lined up with our research and why it’s important.

  • Reoccurring characters create a relationship, trust, and some just add an extra level of entertainment – There is a handful of researchers, experts, and photographers that have become regulars on Shark Week over the years and longer-term viewers have come to know them through their episodes, through social media, other video outlets, as well as through print. Then there is “Bob the Shark,” a person dressed up in a cheesy shark outfit that has made regular, comedic appearances on “Shark After Dark” in prior years, and has quite the social media presence.
  • Inclusion of social media influencers/YouTubers pull in newer, younger (Gen Z) viewers – This year both Dude Perfect and Mark Rober made appearances on shows, while also using their social media reach to promote their show and the week in general. 
  • Celebrity appearances in many cases act in the same way as influencers/YouTubers, but have a larger reach across generations. This year a variety of celebrities appeared, from professional athletes like Mike Tyson and Shaq, to musical icons like Snoop Dogg and comedians like Adam Devine.
  • Community and interactivity to bring viewers together and add a social element that many of us, and more so Gen Z, seek through virtual means. Shark Week has done this well a couple of ways: Through social media extras, recaps, posts during episodes from “Bob the Shark” and contests that encourage participation; and through a daily recap show each evening where questions posted on social media are answered (if you used their hashtag) and characters, influencers, and celebrities appearing on that days episode join in.
  • Multiple channels or ways to view from traditional appointment-based TV to live and on-demand streaming services to meet the needs of most viewers. Although this does not set Shark Week apart from most other network-based shows, it is an important aspect.

Through the formatting noted above, Shark Week is casting a wide a net (see what I did there) to capture the attention across generations, even the allusive Gen Z. 

I used Shark Week and Gen Z, but there are many good and bad examples out there. Understanding the nuances of different audiences and utilizing a variety of means to attract the most viewers possible is important for not only content creators and networks, but for those in marketing, advertising, and even sales roles.

*Social Video is any video content viewed on social media platforms.

Mike’s curiosity led him into research, where he has worked in the telecom market research industry for nearly 20 years and as telecom blurred into entertainment over the last decade, so has the focus of much of the research Mike and his team has focused on with their clients. As this transition came about, KS&R formed an ‘Entercom’ team, under Mike’s leadership, to better support our industry leading partners. Mike has designed and led research across a number of quantitative and qualitative methodologies from tracking consumer behaviors, service packaging and pricing, concept testing, segmentation, and customer journey mapping; and research topics ranging from old school POTs (plain old telephone) to the latest in streaming and social video.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceVideo staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceVideo.