Generation-Z can roughly be defined with two stereotypes. They are activists and addicted to screens. As the first generation growing up with smartphones, Generation-Z breathes the internet. Scrolling down Instagram, whilst watching a TV-show, texting friends during a movie; a generation consisting of media-multitasking digital natives. At the same time Gen-Z, with some activistic tendencies, also has a big command for representation in television. It has become difficult to reach their full attention, and Netflix has been adjusting to its audience in different ways, creating some of the best and worst series ever.
It is not such a surprise that Generation-Z (approximately born between 1997 and 2012) makes up a big part of Netflix’s audience. Netflix is most popular within the younger age groups. Almost every company adjusts their products or content to their audience, and Netflix is no exception. Netflix is a precursor in using data of their audience to create new hit-worthy content. Since Generation-Z is a big part of Netflix’s audience, it is no surprise their commands often have an impact on the content Netflix is creating.
Netflix and Ambient television
Starting with a ‘genre’ of television almost entirely adjusted to the media-multitasking habits of Generation-Z. It is widely known, also by Netflix, that younger people tend to focus on different types of media at the same time. A lot of young people have stopped watching a movie, to entirely focus on that movie only. Instead they put on a movie, but start checking their messages on their phone at the same time. This is called media-multitasking, where any two or more types of media are being used at the same time.
Nothing in the show happens extremely out of the blue, you can trust to press play, check your Twitter, Instagram and Tiktok, and still be able to follow everything when you lost a few full minutes.
This way the tendency to watch a movie, mostly for the background noise and some extra stimuli, has grown. And Netflix knows. As an answer to this habit, Netflix has started to release shows like Emily in Paris. A TV-series that was quickly described as ambient television by many journalists and critics, starting with The New Yorker. The show was created, not to follow an interesting storyline, but to have playing in the background while scrolling down Instagram. A show with lots of pretty images of Paris, but no immaculate plot. When you really look into some parts of the storyline, they don’t make a lot of sense. But then again that might be the point, don’t look too much into it. Nothing in the show happens extremely out of the blue, you can trust to press play, check your Twitter, Instagram and Tiktok, and still be able to follow everything when you lost a few full minutes. It has been totally adjusted to the needs of media-multitasking Gen-Z. A show made to be partially ignored. Since Emily in Paris, this genre of ambient television seems to have become more popular for Netflix.
Netflix and Representation
Nevertheless, creating ambient television is not the only way Netflix has been adjusting to Gen-Z. Netflix is, with its young audience and great financial state, in the perfect position to take on the generation’s will for more representation in television. Over the last few years, representation has been a big issue in the world of film and television. And Netflix has often been in the front line of accommodating real change. They have been releasing shows where the realistic representation was not only about gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity, but also about combinations of those facets and banning out stereotypes. For example in the show Sex Education, logically different sexualities are represented. But what other shows often seem to lack is crossing over the different minorities. Sex Education contains characters with different sexualities, but also different ethnicities. Characters that are for example bi, gay or asexual are shown with all kinds of different ethnicities and storylines. In this way the stereotypes of different sexualities, and different ethnicities are almost immediately ruled out.
Making one character gay, black, or having a female lead, is something other than full representation fighting against stereotypes.
Overall the show contains a wide variety of different people. The female characters have equally interesting storylines to their male counterparts, and some characters don’t fit in with our current gender stereotypes. The characters are one by one made to be real persons. In shows like Sex Education, Netflix is on their way to create shows with big representation and little stereotyping.
This type of content is valuable for young people who are trying to recognize themselves in someone they can strive to be. Seeing someone like you on television can be validating, making shows like this some of the most well put together television right now.
Of course, ambient television can also include all sorts of characters. Combinations of the two types of content do happen. Since there is a big command for representation Netflix tries to make many of their shows representative, even their ambient television. Still there is a big difference between shows that have put a lot of thought and effort in their representation, and shows that don’t. Making one character gay, black, or having a female lead, is something other than full representation fighting against stereotypes. Taking in advice from lots of people from the group you are trying to represent is an important step in this, as well as having a diverse crew working on the shows. Because of this effort needed to make representation valuable, not all shows taking a step in the right direction of representation are as valuable as the others.
For the worst and for the better
Even though the directions of the change are not 100% to be distinguished from each other, overall it can be said that Gen-Z has changed the content of Netflix for the worst and for the better. Movies and TV-shows made to be watched in the background of scrolling down Instagram are not the most meaningful shows people are able to make. While at the same time, television on Netflix is often more representative, which can be very valuable. Television with different types of characters coming from different types of writers and directors on Netflix is a big step into a more representative media world. Now all we have to do is gather our focus for the right shows.
Cover: Nadia Snopek via Shutterstock
Edited by Carolina Alves