Millennials and the Film Industry How does Consumer Behaviour differ across different generations?


One of the largest entertainment industries today is film and cinema, currently being valued at roughly $286.17 billion (Statista, 2016). However the film industry has such a large array of intellectual properties that it can be difficult to always predict what the consumers want.

Various movie stills sourced from IMDB (Shawshank Redemption, The Room, The Godfather Part II, 12 Angry Men and Schindler's List)

The industry is a long enduring one, starting with silent films in the 1890s. As the industry has evolved over time, different generations have emerged including the era of baby boomers and the Millennials. Each generation offered its own environments and societal changes, meaning those who are born into them are affected by different stimuli.

Cognitive Approach - Cziko (2000)
Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902)

Having different stimuli can mean different responses and cognitive behaviours from the inhabitants of different generations. Schiffman and Kanuk (2007) identify a consumer’s behaviour as that which involves purchasing, using and evaluating a product. This behaviour has become a forefront of the growth in modern marketing (Blackwell, Miniard et al., 2001), but how different is the behaviour of the most recent generation, the Millennials, compared to the others?

The different Generations

The Millennials

Millennials are defined as being born between 1982 and the turn of the century. Due to many key stimuli such as the surge in technological advancements and the recent boom in social media, Millennials have key attributes that are not shared with older generations. This access to social media allows a portrayal of false image (Sinek, 2016). They have become very impatient and finicky in regards to their interactions with technology, often spending more on TVs than older generations (Mintel, 2013).


There is an insatiable need to see movies first for younger generations and to be able to boast through social media. This can create fear in the other Millennials; the plot of a movie can be ruined for them before they’ve seen it. With more money being spent on TVs and surround sound and the added worry of hearing someone in the cinema ruin the ending, it’s understandable some Millennials remain in the comfort of their own home to watch a recent release!

With access to services such as Netflix and movies being uploaded to host sites such as Putlocker, Millennials are enabled to adopt the attribute of being finicky. Where it was once possible to pick a film at random before heading to a cinema and being surprised for better or worse, it now goes against wanting instant gratification. Millennials have a much higher level of self-interest (Schiffman and Kanuk, 2007). Online reviews are more important than ever as they can decide whether or not many of the younger generation will give a movie a chance. The building of purchase intention is a much slower process for Millennials. If a movie is not being spoken about, is it good?

Industry professionals are having to become technology and marketing savvy, with a recent example being Ryan Reynold’s interaction with fans on Twitter for the hugely successful ‘Deadpool.’ The passion of the actor was evident, shared by users which created excitement. Shifting the focus to the millennial group of fans would not necessarily be unwise as they contribute a large amount to the industry (Smith, 2016). But at the same time some industry professionals fear that the lack of willingness displayed by Millennials to attend cinemas could create problems for the industry (Payne, 2015).

Source: filmonomics
(Deadpool, 2015) source: Pinterest

The Baby Boomers

Source: Hollywood Branded

Baby boomers were born between 1946 and the early 1960s, or the ‘post-war happiness era.’ It was a period of celebration meaning many born into this time were raised to be appreciative of what they had. Technological advancements were less frequent and there was no social media. What they had was good and what they wanted could wait.

Not everyone had access to TVs. For instance in the US, only 35,000 TV sets were used in 1948 (Television, 1984) and 6,000,000 in the early 1950s (or roughly one in 2 out of 10 households) (Winthrop, 1996). During this time period not everyone would hear reviews about movies. To know if a film was good, baby boomers had to go to cinemas. Growing up with a mind-set of appreciating whatever they had, they would have less interest in extra peripherals such as seeing films in 3D and IMAX and as such would not feel inclined to brag about seeing movies in higher qualities.

Baby boomers then, would be much more likely to see movies when they got round to it, in terms of their upbringing and societal values and attributes. They would be happy to see a film regardless of reviews and would be less likely to find them through host sites or streaming services. It’s safe to say based on the aforementioned stimuli a baby boomer’s interaction with the industry would be a standard trip to the cinema or a DVD purchase post release.

Baby boomers and Millennials are not entirely different though. Because of different affecting factors both generations had, they share one attribute. Both generations are affected by inertia (Solomon et al., 2013). In a normal market sense, this would refer to knowing and purchasing the same brands. With movies this can mean sticking to certain genres and films with known actors and directors. Baby boomers know what they like and like what they know and Millennials don’t like wasting effort on something that won’t have an impact on them.

Source: CakeHR

The Generation Xers

Generation X is regarded as those born between the mid-60s to the early 80s and are regarded by some as being the more industrious of the three generations. If baby boomers struggled to understand technology and the Millennials were raised on it, the Generation Xers were those who helped make it mainstream (Barnett, 2017). These slightly older generations are better in dealing with emergent technology and social media as proven by studies which aimed to prove this generation was closer to the Millennials in terms of cognitive age (Kohlbacher and Cheron, 2012) (Van Auken et al., 2006). They are also a large reason why statistics of over 55s owning TVs are as high as they are (Mintel, 2013). It is safe to assume that Generation X is a middle ground of the two generations before and after it. They are patient like the baby boomers but are willing to embrace new technology like the Millennials.

Source: The Marketing Zen Group

Applying the Theory

Applying a CB model helps highlight the differences between generational behaviours. In terms of traditional models the two most fitting are psychological and sociological, but even they focus too much on specific attributes (Nani, 2017).

The utility theories that lend themselves well are the Economic Man and Psychodynamic models. The Economic Man offers benefits in that it covers certain attributes of each generation (a high level of self-interest for the Millennial or maximising utility for the Generation Xer for example) but it also offers a downside for each and does not take into account stimuli such as social relationships (Simon, 1997). The Psychodynamic model highlights the importance of psychology but does not take into account past psychology of memory (Moital, 2007) (Groome, Dewart et al., 1999). The variables that affect memory are abstract and are hard to define when using this model (Foxall, 1993).

Theory of Behaviour offered benefits of appreciating that all consumer have different inputs or environmental and societal stimuli (Bray, 2008). Although this model could be adapted to appreciate the different generations’ sensitivity to technology, differing levels of effort to seek information and differing strengths of attitude towards available brands (Howard and Sheth, 1973), it was missing one critical component – non-linearity. TBB is very linear, meaning it would be difficult to measure behavioural actions and patterns (Neman, 1972).

Source: Slideshare (Theory of Buyer Behaviour visualised by Howard & Sheth, 1973)

EBM was chosen as the best model. The model still appreciates the differing inputs for each consumer, but also takes into account how these inputs may be affected by memory, or rather, past variables (Blackwell, Miniard et al., 2001). This makes the model much more useful for entering baby boomers. The model can be adapted over time, meaning it could still be used to look at the consumer behaviour of future generations (J.F. Engel, Kollat et al., 1968) and not be limited by non-evolving theoretical backgrounds (Du Plessis, Rousseau et al., 1991).

Source: Iloka Benneth Chiemelie (Consumer decision model as visualised by Engel, Blackwell & Miniard, 1995)

The only downsides of using this model is whether divestment of a movie can be defined as reviewing the movie, selling it on post purchase, discussing it with peers or forgetting about it and re-watching it (Erasmus, Boshoff, et al., 2001) (Loudon and Della Bitta, 1993), and that some variables can become unobservable (Foxall, 1990) (Loudon and Della Bitta, 1993) and therefore hard to use as a means of predicting industry trends (Erasmus, Boshoff et al., 2001).

However, that being said, the generations were placed through this model. For the purpose of demonstration and to eliminate confusion the need recognition will be the same state of deciding whether or not to see the newest James Bond film after it has been in cinemas for a week.


Consumer behaviour differs significantly between these generations. The inputs and stimuli differ across all generations, especially when factoring in memory. Using Cziko’s model (2000), any different stimuli can offer different responses. The different generations have varying levels of exposure to the marketing of films and they therefore retain different aspects. Each generation was brought up to have different ways of getting motivated and there’s varying levels knowledge on display. The behaviour is different due to different stimuli and different individuals being present within each generation


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Created By
Michael Jackman


Created with images by Mezenmir - "red seat hall" • Didriks - "Customer" • annca - "popcorn cinema ticket" • tomislavmedak - "Old TV set"

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