Covid-19’s Impact on Media Consumption

March 03, 2021

During the pandemic, we’ve witnessed a series of dramatic changes in the ways we consume media, with consumer intake of in-home entertainment rising dramatically across the board. Purchasing patterns and subscription models have undergone extensive changes that are likely to stick around once the pandemic has ended.

Understanding these changes and the new trends in customer behavior is critical for businesses looking to adapt to the current media environment and landscape. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the seismic shifts and smaller changes that are defining how the world has reacted to the pandemic. 

The Biggest Increases in Media

Unsurprisingly, with most people stuck at home, social media and entertainment have seen the largest increases in consumption time. 

The rise of social media

Amid the global shutdown, social media has defined the way we connect, communicate, laugh, and — most importantly — stay sane during this difficult time. Social media apps like TikTok, for instance, saw their user base increase by 7.5M users over a period of months. 

The uptick in social media usage has been remarkably consistent across the globe. Roughly 40% of people surveyed in Europe and the US said they’ve increased the amount of time they spend on social media during the pandemic, while 43% of those surveyed in India said the same. Lower numbers in China (24%) likely reflect a greater market penetration on the part of social media apps pre-pandemic.

The largest increases in entertainment

By far the largest increases occurred in entertainment. Since the beginning of March 2020, US consumers have increased the amount of time they spend watching TV or movies by 45%. UK consumers increased their entertainment time by 44%, while consumers in India increased their time by 47%. Once again, consumers in China trailed others surveyed, with an increase of 33%. 

We’ll discuss these radical changes in-depth below, when we dive into the streaming revolution that has defined the way we entertain ourselves during the pandemic. 

The Exponential Rise of Streaming

Although traditional TV and films still take the top spot in terms of time spent, on-demand streaming options have made impressive gains during the pandemic, with 66% of consumers surveyed saying that subscription services are their favorite way to view video content.

Globally, the greatest increase in entertainment spending during lockdown went to movie streaming and on-demand TV subscriptions. A huge spike in streaming sign-ups in April 2020 likely shows when consumers exhausted the content on their current services or began searching for new ways to entertain themselves. 

What does this tell us? That people are clearly happy to pay for the content they want. But as vaccination efforts ramp up, it’s important for media brands to begin thinking about how to keep consumers happy and prevent them from canceling their subscriptions. 

Emotional Viewing

How people spend their time depends on several factors, but with normal routines out the window, mood is becoming an even greater driver of these decisions. Our research shows that most entertainment moments are driven by positive moods — for consumers engaged in streaming, gaming, or social media activities, we found that 28% reported a “happy” or “great” reaction connected to the experience. 

Perhaps most importantly, at the moment of choice, 43% of those surveyed did not consider any other entertainment choice. But what does that mean? To ensure those numbers remain constant and user hesitation is reduced to a minimum, media companies will need to become more agile and versatile as consumers seek increasingly bespoke packages.

Invite-only Socializing

Our research shows that 46% of all entertainment occasions are spent alone — which isn’t too surprising, given we also know that 60% of drinking moments and more than 40% of eating moments are also spent alone. The second most popular way to spend these moments are with partners or spouses (34%). 

Once again, emotional context is crucial and will prove to be incredibly valuable information for brands. We found, for instance, that when looking at streaming services, people who are tired are more likely to be watching with their partners, whereas those feeling relaxed are more likely to watch on their own. 

Virtual Connections

By now, we’re all familiar with Zoom. The company’s video chat tool has become ubiquitous in the past year, enabling businesses to keep their operations going while also facilitating personal get-togethers. But Zoom’s success shouldn’t overshadow other innovations related to virtual connections. 

With most people experiencing a serious lack of socialising, major brands have stepped in to provide services that increase connection. BBC Together, Netflix Party, and Facebook Watch Party all create a safe space for gathering and catching up. All of these initiatives are great examples of how companies are listening to consumers’ personal needs and making it easier for them to stay connected.

Keeping Up With Consumer Demand

The dramatic increases in time spent viewing entertainment options like TV and movies mean that companies have been incentivized to get creative when it comes to keeping up with consumer demand. Many entertainment brands have moved release dates forward and added new titles to pad out their offerings — but this can’t go on forever. 

Today, two-thirds of all content being watched is something the person hasn’t seen before — though that’s not to say it’s new. One clever solution to high consumer content demand is the repurposing of old content, a move that also takes advantage of nostalgia marketing. HBO Max, for instance, has seen success by streaming Friends and older classics like Gone with the Wind, appealing to a wide demographic of consumers. 

The Commuter Conundrum

Due to the rise in remote work, out-of-home media consumption remains a big question mark for brands, creating a problem we call the “Commuter Conundrum.” Commuting time has historically been an occasion poised for entertainment brands. Not only are music, TV and film, and games a great way to spend the multiple hours of daily traveling, but commuters are also willing to use paid-for services to account for a lack of signal and data access. 

Commuting isn’t completely over, of course, but things will change. It’s likely even after the pandemic, for instance, that fewer people will be using public transport, choosing cycling and driving instead. Competitive brands will need to rethink how to address the changing commuting environment, anticipating how their users’ needs will change in the short and long term. 

The Future of Media

If there’s one thing the pandemic has proven, it’s that the digital world has truly cemented its place in consumers’ lives, moving beyond convenience into re-creating and enhancing various experiences — whether it’s to catch up with a colleague or watch a film with friends. 

All these changes underscore the importance of adaptable solutions. Competitive brands will need to focus on understanding their customers’ media habits, uncovering what consumers engage with and why. If you’re interested in learning more about how AI-powered analysis can help you grasp the interplay between your users’ online and offline behavior, consider checking out Streetbees’ Dynamic Media Landscape.