Competing For Gen Z In The Age Of Streaming

By Jason Vanderground

March 9, 2020

2020 2 irwin competing for gen z

Are we in the midst of a generational shift in movie-going? Not according to the 129 students who recently shared their opinions with The New York Times. In many ways, going to movies is more relevant than ever. And today’s teens are going to them for many of the same reasons as previous generations: for the freedom, the connection with friends, the darkened theater experience, and let’s not forget all that buttery popcorn.

For starters, theaters offer a much-needed break from the ever-present glow of devices. Instead of feeling restricted, teens like having permission to put their phones away, focus their attention on one thing, and immerse themselves in a communal experience. Theaters may be the one place in life where Instagram and Tik Tok can wait.

Keeping Them Coming Back

As streaming becomes more pervasive, theaters are doing a good job of competing. Teens love a darkened theater, the sound that vibrates through their shoes, and the HD and 3D screens that pull them into the action.

They also appreciate creature comforts. This means recliners as inviting (but way more supportive) than that offer-stuffed couch at home. Several teens floated the idea of being able to bring a blanket along or BYOF (Bring Your Own Food). Much as they might try to deny it, teens still cling to the comforts of home.

Cost, Convenience, And Comfort

While teens love being the first to see a movie (and then telling their friends about it), ticket prices are an obstacle. Affordability is a much bigger barrier to attendance than inertia; that is, they would gladly take more breaks from streaming if ticket prices didn’t hit them so hard in the mobile pay app.

The teens surveyed by The New York Times would also like to see concessions and dine-in options priced more affordably. Just be sure to keep the butter churning and popcorn kernels popping. The smell, the taste, and having greasy/salty fingers are a time machine for teens. Nothing takes them back to that first Pixar movie with Mom and Dad quite like the sensory experience brought on by popcorn.

Other value options proposed by teens? Consider “friends and family” pricing or progressive discounting for groups of three or more. They’d also like theaters to consider seating in pods of 3, 4, and 5 along with general admission seating. Also try making more of an event out of a showing. Art house theaters shouldn’t be the only venues that do this. Consider opening weekend giveaways or events to keep teens from streaming a movie (or, worse yet, pirating one).

Convenience is another obstacle for many teens. Some shared that sometimes it’s nice not having to get ready to be seen in public. Others don’t like the idea of waiting in line or sitting through trailers. Some expressed feeling self-conscious when laughing in front of other people in the audience. Even with all of these things in mind, the energy of being in a crowded theater, especially on opening night, overcomes all of these challenges.

Capitalizing On The Experience

Going to the movies fills a variety of needs for teens not possible with streaming. Bragging rights is one of them: teens love being among the first to see a much-anticipated new release. For them it’s nice to be on the giving end of a spoiler alert. The immersive, distraction-free nature of movie theaters is also a key selling point.

“If I’ve been waiting for something to come out, it’s almost a tradition to go to a theater just to see it a little bit earlier, enjoy the atmosphere, and be in a place where everyone else is just as hyped as I am.” –Student Survey Feedback

The need for human connection also favors theaters. In a time when teens are feeling increasingly isolated, many appreciate the connection they make with friends, family, and even fellow audience members. If only for a couple hours, films bring people together.

The Show Must Go On

Movie-going is a tradition that spans generations. Today’s teens don’t take this for granted. Many look back fondly on the experience of going to the movies with their parents who grew up during the golden age of movies.

To keep the tradition going strong, today’s theater operators would be wise to evolve and bring new thinking to the experience. Seating is a smart place to start. Based on feedback, teens put a premium on comfort. The few hours they spend in a theater needs to rival or even exceed the comforts of home.

The Hardest Working Seat In Show Business

Irwin is known for seating that brings lasting comfort and support while holding up to the wear and tear brought on by generations of movie-goers. We also have an ingenious way to keep popcorn from becoming a problem. Designed to channel snacks directly to the floor below, a clever internal Popcorn Deflector eliminates a potential maintenance issue by keeping snacks from falling into, and gumming up, the internal seating mechanism.

Other ideas Irwin is ready to introduce are privacy pods and shields to give patrons a getaway experience, even within a filled theater. Teens want a balance of privacy and community (or privacy within community); our latest pod innovation will ensure couples or small groups get that balanced experience.

Ready To Collaborate

Looking for better ways to keep teens—and people of all ages—fully entertained and coming back for more? Irwin is always thinking ahead and ready to collaborate on custom solutions. Together, we can continue to evolve the movie-going experience for generations to come.