Zoe Saldana, Media Publishers Talk Strategies to Reach Millennials

In theory, it should be easy for Hollywood stars and media companies to connect with millennials by putting content on mobile devices.

The reality is the media world is still looking for ways to get the attention of this elusive audience, which gets harder and harder to reach.

Coming up with new strategies to make and deliver content that is compelling to millennials was the focus of a panel held Tuesday on “Reinventing Social Entertainment,” part of the ongoing Advertising Week conference in New York.

Actress and producer Zoe Saldana, who starred in Guardians of the Galaxy, Avatar, and Star Trek, joined Spencer Baim, chief strategic officer with Brooklyn-based digital media outlet Vice Media; Brian Angiolet, senior vice president of consumer products and marketing with Verizon; and Brian Robbins, founder of Awesomeness TV, for the discussion. Ryan Duffy, host of docuseries Now What, moderated.

A theme that came up repeatedly was the need to be genuine with the audience. Saldana said she connects with her fans and fellow mothers through social media not just about her work on film, but also her experiences raising twin boys. “It gives the artist the ability to establish a sincere relationship with their followers,” she said. “The fans feel they are seen, they are heard, and matter.”

Such a direct, digital social pipeline to the audience, Saldana said, cuts out middlemen and media handlers who might turn that interaction into something superficial—which followers can smell from miles away.

Ryan Duffy, Brian Robbins, and Zoe Saldana discuss the need for authenticity to reach millennials.

Ryan Duffy, Brian Robbins, and Zoe Saldana discuss the need for authenticity to reach millennials.

Content that also speaks to the burgeoning Latino audience in the U.S., Saldana said, while being sincere about understanding who is watching is an increasingly important part of connecting with viewers. “There’s a desire to see something in Spanish, even though it’s American,” she said.

Vice, Baim said, puts out content on topics young people care about, such as art, music, fashion, and technology. Part of Vice’s appeal, he said, is its videos try to speak with the voice of the current generation. “It kind of feels like the person who is watching it could have made it themselves,” Baim said.

Recent deals in the media industry, such as NBCUniversal investing in BuzzFeed, show that more companies in the industry are anxious to understand and reflect the spirit of the current generation.

Angiolet said Verizon has been working to build out its digital business with the media consumption habits of younger viewers in mind. Verizon’s mobile TV app Go90 will launch publicly on Thursday and is targeted at millennials who would rather watch video on handheld devices than large screen televisions. He said this audience is even looking to watch longer-form content, not just quick clips, on smartphones. “They’ll watch a 22-miniute show that way,” Angiolet said. “We’ve all been talking mobile-first, but really it’s mobile-only.”

Users of the ad-driven Go90 app will get access to clips comparable to YouTube shorts, as well as television content, for free without a subscription. The app will only work on mobile devices, not laptops, desktop computers, or even TVs that are connected to the Internet.

Though the attention lately has largely been on millennials, the media industry is already trying to reach the next generation following at their heels. Robbins said his company, Awesomeness TV, puts out content for the millennial and the even younger Generation Z audiences, viewers whom he said want to see celebrities they care about—who might not be mainstream Hollywood stars. Awesomeness TV had Greycroft Partners as one of its backers, and was acquired in 2013 by DreamWorks Animation.

Brian Angiolet, senior vice president of consumer products and marketing with Verizon, listens to Spencer Baim, chief strategic for Vice.

Brian Angiole (left) listens to Spencer Baim.

Robbins said we are now looking at the first post-Internet generation, many of whom who are adept at producing their own content for the digital space and can relate to the personalities and stars they discover there. He said Awesomeness TV capitalized on younger viewers’ preference for digital personalities by making Expelled, a comedy movie released last December, featuring YouTuber Cameron Dallas. “We put that out on a couple of screens, and then it went to iTunes for digital release and it went immediately to No. 1 on the iTunes charts,” he said.

That release relied on the social reach of the cast instead of a hefty investment in a media blitz to get the word out, Robbins said. He posited that the response to Expelled showed how the audience has taken more control in their relationship with the media world and is unlikely to give it back.  “You really can’t dictate to them,” Robbins said.

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