Mobile is Gen Z’s Living Room

Move Over Big Screens, Gen Z Turns to Mobile for Shows


For most adults, given the choice between watching a show or video on a television or on their phone it would be a no-brainer, they would obviously prefer to watch on TV. However, recent research conducted by Whistle Wise, the insights arm of Whistle, found that for the majority of Gen Z it’s actually the opposite. 61% of Gen Z think watching a video or show on their phone is just as good as watching on television (an astonishing 71% of teens feel this way). This is a huge departure from Millennials, only 37% of which think the mobile experience measures up to TV.

It would be easy to attribute their comfort watching video on mobile to their time spent watching content on social platforms like YouTube, Facebook, etc. and to some extent that is the case. Mobile is the primary device used to watch video content for 73% of Gen Z YouTube viewers and 84% of Facebook viewers.

However, Gen Z is opting to watch more than short-form, social content on their mobile phone. More Gen Zers say mobile (40%) is their primary device to watch Netflix than TV (38%). This is in sharp contrast to Millennials, only 22% of which consider mobile their primary device to watch Netflix. And Gen Z’s shift to mobile goes beyond that, a fifth of Gen Z even say mobile is their primary device to watch Network TV shows. This goes against the convention that publishers should be making short-form video to connect with Gen Z on mobile. Rather, Gen Z is watching all types of content on mobile and there are other factors driving them to the device.

Two key aspects of Gen Z’s behavior and demeanor that influence why they defer to watching content on mobile are their incredibly short attention span and affinity for multi-tasking. This need for continuous entertainment and stimulation leads to Gen Z claiming to be incredibly bored. Almost half of all Gen Zers from the study said the primary reason that they watch videos or shows is because they are bored and want to be entertained.

For Gen Z, boredom doesn’t just strike at the end of a long day when most traditional viewership typically happens. It strikes during all the little moments throughout the day when they have down time. Gen Z are shifting 15% more of their total time watching videos to these sporadic occasions (i.e. in the morning, on their commutes and in-between classes and meetings). These additional mobile video moments also frequently occur while they are doing other things, using their phone as a second screen or a distraction. Two Gen Zers shared the following unique moments they turned to their phones to watch a video:

I was feeling bored waiting at the doctor’s office, so I decided to open Netflix and watch something. – Savion, 18

I had some free time after class and I wanted to relax and watch a show. – Maddie, 17

As Gen Z continues to spend more time watching video content throughout the day, it presents an opportunity for publishers. The traditional model has been building an audience for appointment-viewing in Prime-time. But with eyeballs on screens at all hours, smart publishers can shift from appointment-viewing to occasion-viewing and begin to own these additional dayparts and viewing occasions throughout the day.

One great example is YouTube influencers Rhett & Link and their daily morning show, “Good Mythical Morning.” They have a loyal following who tune to watch their show every morning in a daypart where their only real competition is the morning news. Kyle, a 22-year old male, describes the utility it plays in his day, “I always watch their videos in the morning as a way to start my day. I wanted something to wake me up.”

As Gen Z continue to spend more time watching all kinds of videos and shows on their phone during all times of the day, those publishers that understand these behaviors and motives will be able to build engaged and loyal audiences.

For key findings of this study, register to download the accompanying infographic here.


Alex Strauss leads consumer research at Whistle, focusing on better understanding Gen Z and their content consumption habits. Alex is an avid sports fan and currently lives with his wife in Stamford, Connecticut.

Whistle Wise conducted two phase research: Digital ethnographies hosted by Dscout among 20 Gen Z & Millennials and an online survey hosted by Qualtrics, among 1200 respondents age 13-34, nationally representative by age, region and race. Gen-Z is defined as age 13-24, Millennials are defined as age 25-34. The research was conducted between May & June 2019.