John Poelking
John Poelking is a Leisure Analyst at Mintel. His passion for live entertainment, movies, television, technology and travel informs his sector knowledge.

The wide variety of digital content available to US consumers has opened up the possibilities for what can attract a dedicated audience. With a vast amount of content scattered across several streaming platforms that produce TV, music, podcasts, and gaming, there is not a single genre or artist that is capturing the majority of US consumers’ attention. However, consumers are congregating around content that can elicit reactions from either side of this coin: comfort and chaos.

Comfort

Amidst a 24-hour news cycle, consumers are finding more time in their schedule for content that incites comfortable feelings or a sense of familiarity. For example, three in 10 digital video subscribers say they watch the same shows repeatedly according to Mintel research on digital video.

The biggest signal for this is the resurgence of the romantic comedy on digital platforms. Netflix has been at the forefront of this revitalization by appealing to teens (The Kissing Booth) and adults (Always Be My Maybe) alike. The formula for successful romantic comedies has not changed and romantic comedies have had a rough stretch in movie theaters. However, Netflix realized that romantic comedies are best viewed on a couch rather than in a movie theater and delivered exactly what people want in the place they want it.

Comfort also gives way to nostalgia. There’s a reason Netflix paid eight figures for another year of Friends or why Disney+ is going to likely have tens of millions of subscribers within its first year: people love to rewatch things they know they love. This is especially true of families. Mintel’s upcoming research on family entertainment shows that nearly half of parents say the TV/movies they usually watch with their kids are things they watched when they were kids. Rediscovering and sharing older movies and TV shows can bring a sense of comfort to viewers in the US, and they’re willing to pay for that feeling of repeat enjoyment.

Chaos

While binge culture has been proven to cut down on social interactions involving popular television series, it has not completely stifled water cooler conversation in the TV world. Instead of talking about content by episode though, the conversation has shifted to talking about whole seasons as they air. This is particularly true of content that is intended to rattle and challenge viewers. Without presenting anything particularly distressing, content that can create disruption out of real and fictional events spurs conversation.

Nowhere is this truer than in the rise of the true crime genre. While true crime’s streaming popularity seemingly began with the podcast Serial, it was solidified by the Netflix series Making a Murderer, triggering an avalanche of documentaries and fictional accounts of crimes that intend to challenge what people perceived was the truth. Past crimes can be discussed ad nauseum through podcasts, movies and TV. For example, podcast My Favorite Murder, tours across the country discussing past crimes and offering commentary.

Any sort of content that can shake people out of their perceptions of reality can find a dedicated audience. This may be from reflecting on technology (Black Mirror) or philosophy (The Good Place) or gender politics (The Handmaid’s Tale). More than ever, people are comfortable with being uncomfortable.

What we think

If you ask 10 US consumers what movies or TV shows or music is popular, you will likely get 10 different answers. As the streaming market continues to fragment audiences into new segments and sub-segments, each US consumer is finding the content that resonates with them outside of popular culture. The more streaming platforms takes risks, the more likely they are to find an audience that may not have felt like their voice was heard by mainstream media.