Music streaming’s looming generational blind spot
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Music streaming platforms have clamoured to attract Gen Z, with good reason. The cool, new kids out-stream everyone and are pioneering new ways to engage with music, yet they are spending more time on TikTok than streaming services might like. Meanwhile, though, streaming’s grip on another generation appears to be slipping: millennials.
Yes, millennials. While this generation has long been considered the foundation for the streaming industry, MIDiA’s latest report, ‘US millennial snapshot | A looming generational blind spot’, paints a nuanced picture. The report focuses on 25-34-year-olds in the US, revealing that this cohort is both the music industry’s most valuable age group and, for streaming platforms, that which appears most in danger of being lost.
Why millennials matter
In the US, not only are 25-34s the largest consumer segment by age, but they are also the most likely to be music aficionados — those who spend the most time and money on music. This is partly a symptom of life stage. Millennials hit the sweet spot of being old enough to have disposable income to spend on music, but still young enough that music remains an important part of their lives.
Knowing that 25-34s grew up amid the transition from physical music to streaming, we might expect them to be well-adapted to the new format. But in reality, these consumers seem reluctant to give up the listening methods of their upbringing. US 25-34s spend the least time streaming music of any segment under 45, and the most on other formats, such as CD, radio, and vinyl. Nearly half say they would give up music rather than TV / film if forced to make the choice, and many are considering cancelling some subscriptions in favour of bundles.
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Living in a physical world
What would get millennials to engage more with streaming? The majority of US 25-34s say it is important to listen to music that is chosen by humans (rather than an algorithm), and would like to have a more social streaming experience, with tools like profile pages and messaging. Overall, this cohort is looking for more human ways to stream.
It is hard to resist psychoanalysing this finding. As the last age segment to experience ownership of music, 25-34s’ earliest experiences with music were in many ways more human and social than they feel on streaming. If you are part of this cohort, you had to visit a store to buy a band’s new CD, and the CD came with context about the artist via album art and lyric booklets. You probably burned CDs for your friends. Even the early days of file-sharing were inherently social. By contrast, today’s streaming algorithms encourage passive listening and provide a hyper-personalised experience (i.e., “For You” playlists). While there are social features on streaming — and that list is growing every day — the overall experience is leaving much to be desired for millennials.
Who are you building for?
So, we know that millennials are looking for a more human touch. But what pleases one generation does not necessarily matter as much to others. The Gen Z-dominant cohort below them, 16-19-year-olds, actually diverge strongly in many of their habits. Thus, it may be difficult — although certainly not impossible — to create a platform that serves both.
Over time, entertainment companies may find it increasingly difficult to serve a broad range of ages. Generations have always had obvious differences, but as the pace of technological and cultural change accelerates, with deep impacts on consumer behaviour, these differences are becoming more pronounced and scattered. For example, while 16-19s might grow up accustomed to artificial intelligence (AI), the technology might feel alien even to 20-24s. The result: platforms are about to get even more homogenous, or hyper-tailored.
MIDiA's new report, ‘US millennial snapshot | A looming generational blind spot’, is available for clients here. It includes US data on consumer behaviour by age segment under 45, age distribution by streaming platform, strategies for attracting Gen Z versus millennials, and more. If you are not yet a MIDiA client and would like to find out how to access this report, please email email@example.com.