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The Truman Show (1998)
Americans aren’t living in a TV show like the namesake character from the 1998 film The Truman Show, nor can they exactly leave their world like Jim Carrey did. But in 2023 they’ll be looking for an escape and some catharsis in the world they’re living in.
Americans are dealing with a lot coming out of the pandemic - a cost of living crisis and security concerns to name a couple. And it’s taking a toll. According to the General Social Survey, only 19% say they’re very happy, which is by far the lowest it’s been in 50 years.
Religion has acted as an outlet for tough times before, but other practices and beliefs are becoming go-tos. Interest in religion has declined in the last two years, while interest in spirituality and astrology are up. While we joke about Mercury being in retrograde, we can’t joke about a billion-dollar business. Apps such as Co-Star (which share birth charts and horoscopes with users) have captured the attention of venture capitalists.
And even celebrities are celebrating their link to the stars. Beyoncé, one of the most-streamed artists in the world, frequently shouts about her Virgo sign, including a track called VIRGO’S GROOVE on her latest album.
Others aren’t looking to the stars for guidance, but they are looking to media for an escape. Americans now have ample stories to invest their emotions in. With our research into trending genres, we can forecast what sort of media will resonate most with viewers and listeners in 2023.
When the first lockdowns started, over 80% of Americans thought the pandemic would last 6 months or less. Of course that didn’t happen, and restrictions were mostly in place until mid-2021, a full year longer than most Americans predicted.
The pandemic saw many issues – overrun hospitals, mass layoffs, and a high death toll from the virus itself. When restrictions started to ease in early 2021, US consumers were pretty optimistic about the future. 37% thought the US economy would get better as well. Today, that number has decreased to only 18%.
Now a cost of living crisis is slashing budgets, as consumers struggle to pay their bills. Fears of tax increases have also worried US consumers, with many thinking their already scarce budgets will shrink more. Concerns about gun violence and geopolitical tensions have also risen.
15% of US consumers say they’re never satisfied with their life, up 6% from last year - and one of the fastest-growing sentiments in the US.
With all that is going on, Americans desperately need catharsis – a way of releasing, or managing, the frustration they’re facing. For many, this is coming through the media they consume. Much of the situation Americans find themselves in is out of their control, but they can choose what they watch or listen to.
The first CrimeCon in 2017 saw 800 fans packed in a hotel. In 2022, the event saw 5,000 attend. It now has plans to go international - and there’s even a cruise ship gathering in the works. We’re not surprised by this.
While the subject matter may be morbid, it makes sense why Americans are so drawn to it. The story allows for the listener to exclaim disgust at the crime, then relief when the perpetrator is caught. The legal system sends the perpetrator away, and the justice system prevails. Whether or not this ending happens in real life, the listener doesn’t care. They can release their emotions, and escape reality for a little bit.
Over half of Americans say they listen to audio - be that music, podcasts, audiobooks, or talk radio - to help them relax, and over 1 in 3 say it helps relieve stress and anxiety. With mental health increasing in importance, consumers are turning to media to help them through the day. Advertisers are taking notice too. Online mental health company BetterHelp constantly outspends other advertisers on podcasts.
While podcasts boast advertisements from mental health companies, music has gotten aggressive. Some of the fastest-growing genres in the last two years are metal and punk, alongside high-BPM (beats per minute) genres like house and techno.
Meanwhile, the genre falling most in popularity is acoustic/singer songwriter, which notoriously sits on the calm side of the volume dial.
Fans of metal and punk, as it happens, are 15% more likely than the average American to agree that mental health is important. Headbanging, as it turns out, is cathartic.
ReportWhat’s winning in America’s attention economy?Download your copy
20% of Americans say they’ve experienced anxiety regularly or often, up 32% from two years ago. The percentage who feel anxious while watching content? Only 3%. However, nearly half indicate that they watch content as an escape/diversion. Americans are watching TV/movies to distract themselves from what’s going on away from the screen.
On the small screen, viewers have been steadily losing interest in the news. With the economic and security crises going on, Americans are trying to avoid it, and any anxiety it may bring on – a feeling they know all too well.
So what’s playing instead? Action/superhero movies for one. This isn’t a surprise as Marvel movies have made over $10 billion in US box office revenue, and Marvel accounts for 4 of the 7 most watched shows on Disney+. Americans see their action shows and movies as a cathartic experience, knowing good will almost always overcome evil, but they’re kept on the edge of their seats. These stories are also exciting for the eye, as CGI has made action movies a spectacle.
Away from the action, Americans are also in the mood for love. Times of economic hardship make romantic comedies a particularly popular genre. Screwball comedies, the predecessor to romcoms, were born in the Great Depression. Romance and romantic comedies as a genre are up 9% in popularity in the last two years. Like action movies and true crime podcasts, these movies and shows are full of clichés and tropes, but almost always, the characters resolve their issues and come together for a happy ending.
These more formulaic genres are opposites to the world they find themselves in. People are struggling to make ends meet. Safety seems to be at an all-time low both at home and abroad, and tax hikes still weigh heavily on the mind. And they can’t do much about it.
What can they do? Turn on the TV and select the movie or show that they know will take them through an emotional ride, but will ultimately end well for the good guys.
Even if Americans know how these stories will end, it’s the cathartic journey of the protagonist triumphing over their fears that brings them back, and maybe they hope to triumph over an unpredictable and ever-changing world.
The next 12 months will be interesting for Americans. Some aspects of the cost of living crisis are improving, but it’s still left a hole in their wallets. The midterms will shape the political narrative for the next two years, and may give rise to new fears.
In that climate, lifestyle habits and media preferences will continue to provide emotional release. Some old favorites will continue – Marvel movies are scheduled out to 2025, while true crime will benefit from a podcast market expected to grow 31% annually to 2030.
Other things – like New Age spirituality, high-BPM music, and romcoms – could represent new arrivals, bubbling up from subcultures and fandoms.
The final word to sum up what consumers want to do in 2023 should go once again to Beyoncé, from her number 1 hit BREAK MY SOUL:
BREAK MY SOUL
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