How Content will be Consumed in the Future (and Currently)

How, with what, and when do we consume media—these are intriguing questions with many answers. And now, there’s a comprehensive Salesforce study addressing them. The Connected Audience Report, which surveyed over 3,000 media consumers worldwide about their preferences, provides detailed insights into the habits and expectations of different generations regarding formats like TV, streaming, and content à la carte in general. This refers to offerings that allow individuals to be free from fixed broadcasting times and specific devices, enabling them to watch exactly what interests them, as suggested by their browsing behavior.

A Fundamental Shift in Media Consumption

Digital media consumption is surpassing traditional methods, although there are differences across generations—Baby Boomers, Millennials, and Generation Z. For instance, younger generations are 3.2 times more likely to stream music monthly from services like Pandora and Spotify compared to older demographics. Meanwhile, the consumption of audio streaming services has already overtaken downloading MP3 songs across all generations. The success of these and other digital offerings can be attributed not only to consumer convenience but also to the ability to access personalized content. More and more Millennials, for example, are discovering “their” content through individual recommendations rather than advertisements. Additionally, videos are increasingly being watched on computers or smartphones and less on TV sets.

All of this inevitably leads to higher consumer expectations. After all, no one wants to wait until 8 p.m. for the news when they can watch it earlier and on the go or even curate their own news. Therefore, it has become crucial for providers to not only understand but anticipate these expectations through appropriate offerings, services, intelligent applications, and profound analysis of consumer data.

Each Generation, Their Device, and Content

Delving further into the study reveals a widening gap between generations and their digital content consumption preferences. Baby Boomers (born between 1960 and 1964), for example, prefer traditional TV sets or even car radios for listening to music or watching shows. Millennials and Generation Z (born between 1981 and 1999) primarily use smartphones, but also laptops, for consuming various types of media. When it comes to viewing habits, younger individuals are 3.7 times more likely to start watching a show or movie on one device and finish it on another, while older generations tend to stay put in front of their TV screens.

Moreover, Millennials and Generation Z find it natural to access their favorite shows via streaming and watch them whenever convenient—even repeatedly. Younger individuals also have a strong appetite for “snackable content,” such as short posts, images, or YouTube videos, which are equally accessible across all devices and easy to share with friends (and on social media) due to their small data size.

With all the advantages of digital content, it’s not surprising that only 12 percent of respondents regularly buy almost antiquated DVDs.

More Screen Time Required

Millennials and Generation Z are significantly ahead of Baby Boomers when it comes to multiscreening and cross-channel consumption—engaging with multiple media channels simultaneously or sequentially. Although a majority of respondents (63 percent) search online for content they’ve seen or heard elsewhere at least once a month, younger generations track advertisements they like across different channels unlike older individuals.

Additionally, they are 2.7 times more likely to share relevant content on social media, significantly contributing to the spread of certain content across all media channels, perhaps even turning seemingly dull public radio content into clickbait.

Who Made the Recommendation?

At this point, let’s ponder how content, consumed so differently, flexibly, and free from device constraints, is actually discovered. Again, there are differences among generations, but both younger and older individuals share a common denominator: word-of-mouth marketing as the primary recommendation channel for all content. However, when friends’ recommendations are absent, younger generations readily turn to consumer-generated content recommendations or algorithm-generated suggestions based on what others who purchased the same items were interested in. While traditional advertising formats like ads can still serve as recommendation sources, the tips from content providers (for example, Netflix’s “Top Picks for you”) are gradually overshadowing them. Hence, it’s not surprising that streaming videos and music streaming services lead the way when it comes to personalized recommendations.

Not Everything That Streams Shines

What do streaming services, running images and sounds, compel consumers to do?

In any case, they encourage consumers to spend more time and subscribe to multiple providers. In fact, 47 percent of surveyed Baby Boomers have increased their streaming consumption, and across generations, 61 percent have become more tightly tied to the streaming drip in the last two years.

Considering that streaming services are one of the primary sources for personalized recommendations, it quickly becomes clear that providers will continue to increase their influence on consumer behavior in the future.

Why more or less time is spent with specific content in their respective sources and why more people are subscribing to more than one streaming service fundamentally depends on a few factors: personalized offerings that cater to individual tastes, constant availability on preferred devices, and the price advantage over traditional cable/digital TV are reasons for favoring streaming offerings. On the other hand, irrelevant and expensive content, lack of flexibility, limited availability, and high subscription costs are reasons against traditional channels (TV, newspapers, radio).

New Consumption Habits = New Revenue Streams

Finally, let’s take a look at the future—not necessarily through a crystal ball but with a focus on how content providers can (re)gain revenue. The results of the Salesforce study are clear: through exclusive content. Fifty-one percent of respondents would pay to access movies while they’re still in theaters (without actually going to the cinema), while 49 percent would pay for access to recently aired movies. Forty-seven percent would pay for tailored content, and 39 percent to eliminate all advertising. Furthermore, 28 percent would shell out some money for personalized recommendations reflecting their personal interests, and 31 percent would pay for recommendations scattered across various channels to be centrally curated.

Now, isn’t that a unicorn business idea?