NRK uses an unconventional TV format to appeal to Gen Z — Skam (2016)

How Skam is changing the way teens watch telly

DISRUPTORS: The ideas changing industries

The way teens watch telly is different to generations gone by. Stuck to their smartphones — 73% of Americans aged between 13 and 17 have access to a smartphone — and accustomed to binging what they want, when they want it, broadcasters have struggled to adapt. But Norwegian TV show Skam is doing things differently and winning millions of fans in the process. We explore why appealing to Gen Z often means breaking the rules.

Skam — which means ‘shame’ in Norwegian — is a teen drama with a difference. Episodes can range between 20 and 50 minutes in length, and they go live at the time they happen — if a party is at 2am, that’s the time the episode will air.

Beyond simply consuming a programme, movie or game, teens are creating parodies, fan fiction and works of art themed around their favourite characters. Knowing this, the creators of Skam have given its characters social media accounts, where fans can chat and interact. By making its characters seem like real people, Skam has also tapped into the fact that Gen Z prefer to listen to their peers, rather than traditional celebrities.

TV isn’t the only medium that’s adapting to the way teens engage with narratives. Hooked is a popular creative writing platform that uses SMS conversations to tell stories, while Wattpad is a free reading platform where amateur and professional writers alike can share their work in chapters, and they’re also given the opportunity to shape where the story goes.

This unconventional TV format is paying off for the network; while there are 60,000 16-year-old girls in Norway — the show’s target audience — Skam attracted 1.3 million viewers at its peak, and a US remake is already in production. Instead of trying to rebuild an interest in traditional TV, Skam meets Gen Z on their own turf. It’s a great example of how traditional media producers are learning to adapt to the way teens in 2017 live their lives.

Jo Allison is Canvas8’s editor. Previously, she worked for retail trends consultancy GDR, where shopping was part of the job description. When she’s not getting her head around the quirks of human behaviour, she’s busy ‘researching’ the latest food or fitness fad.