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The Gen Z Case for Licensing Completed Content

The youngest generation of streamers prefers shows that have already finished airing, and they have a slight preference for shorter shows
Gen Z streaming content on a tablet
Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Kelly Rice
By Amy He
February 26, 2024 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • Higher shares of Gen Z adults say they prefer to watch shows that have finished airing (34%), than those that are still airing (22%). The general population’s preferences are more evenly split.

  • Social media’s penchant for short-form may be influencing Gen Z’s slight distaste for  shows with 3 or more seasons: 31% of Gen Z prefers these longer running shows, compared to 44% of baby boomers.

  • For streamers who need to bolster younger viewership, this is an argument for licensing completed content, and shows with longer backlists are enticing even to consumers known for their shorter attention spans.

Download our latest State of Media & Entertainment report for more on consumer trends in streaming, audio, video gaming and more.

For years, released-all-at-once, original programming was the norm for streamers in a highly competitive, crowded marketplace. That has changed, with platforms moderating their release cadence to drive cultural conversation, and once again licensing TV shows that were previously exclusively available elsewhere.

There’s no longer a one-size-fits-all content library approach, and streamers can’t swerve too much one way or the other, though there are considerations to keep in mind if they’re trying to court younger viewers. 

New Morning Consult research featured in our latest State of Media & Entertainment report shows that U.S. adults have an almost equal preference on completed versus still-airing shows, but Gen Z and millennials showing a higher preference for bingeable, completed content. There are also roughly equal shares of Gen Z who prefer all show lengths, which undercuts assumptions that younger viewers automatically prefer shorter offerings over longer ones.

Gen Z adults have a stronger preference for shows that have finished airing

While the general population is equally content with streaming TV shows that are either still airing or have finished airing, Gen Z adults express a preference for completed shows.

More Gen Z Adults Prefer Completed Shows

Shares who most prefer the following on streaming platforms:
Morning Consult Logo
Survey conducted Dec. 16-17, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,201 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. "Neither" responses are not shown.

Gen Z, along with millennials, consume a lot of streaming content, and both completed stories and all-at-once TV satisfies younger consumers’ desire for instant gratification. Amid ongoing industry debates about populating content libraries with either originals or licensed TV, this data helps make the case that additions of the latter is a good way to engage younger generations. This year could see more success on streaming with already-completed shows, like what we saw happen with USA Network’s “Suits,” which went off air in 2019 but broke records last summer when Netflix began streaming the series.

When it comes to new releases, there are exactly the same shares of U.S. adults who prefer shows that are released one episode at a time and those who prefer episodes released all at once (31%). Gen Z and millennials don’t stray that far from popular consensus on this one, though our past research also shows that those generations have a big appetite for watching multiple episodes a day when new shows are dropped in their entirety, with about one in five of both cohorts saying they’re even open to watching an entire season in a day if they could.

More consumers want shows with longer season counts

Another likely reason why “Suits” ended up being a runaway streaming success — beyond cultural interest in Meghan Markle — is that it had a hefty backlog, spanning 134 episodes across 9 seasons. Our research shows that the share of those who prefer longer shows is 18 points higher than those who like shorter ones.

Most Adults Prefer Longer Running Shows, but Gen Z Are More Evenly Split

Shares who most prefer the following on streaming platforms:
Morning Consult Logo
Survey conducted Dec. 16-17, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,201 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. "Neither" responses are not shown.

Though the default assumption is that consumers — particularly Gen Z — have shorter attention spans, it’s clear that when it comes to TV, shorter doesn’t automatically mean better. The older the consumer, the more likely they are to prefer longer shows. And even the roughly equal shares of Gen Z adults with either preference is notable, given that social media has trained younger audiences to consume content that’s as bite-sized as possible.

Part of this is that some TV shows are particularly good for “second screening,” like procedurals, since they tend to be longer and more formulaic. The other part of it could also be the paradox of choice: Every attempt to find something new to watch means sifting through hundreds of titles. But there can be a simple comfort to being able to sink back into a show with plenty more story to tell.

Download our latest State of Media & Entertainment report for more on consumer trends in streaming, audio, video gaming and more.

Kevin Tran contributed to this analysis.

A headshot photograph of Amy He
Amy He
Deputy Head of Industry Analysis

Amy He is deputy head of Industry Analysis. Her team identifies trends across retail, media, technology, sports and brand reputation. Prior to joining Morning Consult, Amy served as the executive editor of newsletters at Insider Intelligence (formerly known as eMarketer), and was a China reporter for many years. She graduated from New York University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and East Asian studies. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].

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