26 May 2020

Media consumption — is a permanent change imminent post-COVID-19?

With much of the world in lockdown, this is a fascinating time to explore our changing media behaviours. We are witnessing an acceleration of existing trends towards increasing digitalisation of our media diet. Think of it as fast-forwarding to five years from now in a shortened time.

With people having more time on their hands, and mainly only home-related forms of entertainment available, it is not surprising overall media consumption has grown. Global Web Index found that more than 80% of consumers in the US and UK have consumed more content since the start of the outbreak. People are turning to trusted sources to get critical updates, while social delivers on its initial promise by connecting us and providing light release between friends.

The trend that’s here to stay is all generations are now fully immersed in the benefits of digital-led content. The recent headlines of Netflix and Disney+ massive successes and the fact that resolution had to be slowed in Europe due to bandwidth limitations demonstrates how ubiquitous streaming video has become. Likewise, music streaming and podcast numbers have grown exponentially. In an age of multi-platform streaming content, the medium is secondary to ease of access.

All generations now want to watch the latest episode of Tiger King, be it on phone, TV or cast via projector, depending on individual preference. Troll World Tour was the most significant recent film success. Released without any formal cinema launch, it forever changed the existing business model that gives movie theatres/cinemas an advantage. Today everything is available everywhere and the only remaining questions are which screen size and on which platform.

Our old ways of describing offline and online services belong in the past as consumers now focus on content that will very soon be exclusively played back in digital form. Our whole media channel nomenclature needs an update to play catch-up with these new behaviours.

Evolution of platforms

As we adapt to a different reality, we will see consumers attempt to return to normal as much as possible. However, it will be challenging for many, as specific segments of the population will fear for their health when going back into populated spaces. This means that the media outlets people have discovered and leaned on could become regular parts of their routines post-crisis. This is especially true when looking at gaming as a platform.

Since January, gaming has increased by 20% with Italy (further ahead in the stages of COVID-19) seeing the highest uptake of 31%. Gaming specialist platforms such as Twitch have also seen a significant increase in usage of their platform.

All of this means that gaming is being used as an outlet for self-expression — something entirely new. In the game Animal Crossing, users are creating outfits that reflect their own style, and this has spawned a cult following. Gaming has also become an innovation destination: renowned superstar performers such as Travis Scott have incorporated concerts into the game and are making the concerts playable. Celebrities will look at this space as a new way to distribute their content and appeal to a vast audience at scale.

With almost all concerts, events and festivals either cancelled or postponed, brands have pivoted to explore a digital-first approach. In the coming years, people will crave the real experience, but if brands can offer exclusive access to these kinds of experiences for a small cost, then we could see it become the new norm.

Brands need to think about how to intersect this space to create opportunities. Facebook through IGTV will be mining a wealth of long-form engagement data that could see them compete with other video platforms and use this data for commercial gain.

View from China: Rise of live streaming

In China, with millions in lockdown and without popular entertainment shows (many reality and entertainment shows were postponed during this period), live streaming became one of the essential entertainment methods to relieve boredom and a necessary channel for purchasing.

To capitalise on changing behaviours, many digital platforms, such as Weixin or Weibo, Tik Tok, Tmall, etc. built-in live streaming functions to meet public demand and also to empower anyone to become a live streaming host. Even the national TV channel, CCTV, joined the live streaming phenomenon, having their famous TV hosts sell products via live streaming on different digital platforms.

This phenomenon seems to have had a profound impact on the digital media landscape, as many digital platforms now include in their strategic action plan cultivating live streaming businesses and hosts. During live streaming events, consumers watch demonstrations of a brand’s product instead of spending time checking information online. Land Rover in China deployed a 30-hour live streaming event with 300 influencers, celebrities and brand stakeholders to launch its new Land Rover Discovery Sport. As a result, Land Rover is not only the first automotive brand in China to host a live streaming launch event, but also has boosted offline dealer store traffic during the pandemic.

As conditions improve, many consumers are once again venturing outdoors and out of their homes. However, the live streaming phenomenon continues as many people find live streaming is both entertaining and informative when they interact with celebrities and brand owners (many domestic brands having their CEOs to co-host live streaming events). Even local government officials are planning to use live streaming to sell local products to national consumers as a way to reboot the local economy.

Media consumption and time spent

Another interesting outcome from this lockdown is our altered relationship with time, and that depends on our individual circumstances. Did we have a long commute and now find working from home is more productive? Have school closings and reopenings given people more time on their hands as they juggle childcare and home-schooling? How busy are we all going to get as the economy recovers and goes into hyperdrive to regain consumers trust? These are examples of how time is likely to be a flexible concept that will greatly impact our ability to continue consuming more media. We may see a dip in some of the growing media trends in the short term before we settle into a new rhythm post-pandemic.

Advice for brands

A recent GWI survey showed that while most consumers yearn for brands to respond to the outbreak by providing practical information or tips and pledges to help, many others expect brands to communicate and advertise as normal.

As media plays a vital part in our lives during this time of the pandemic, brands must understand which stages of the crisis their markets are experiencing and adapt communication accordingly. Being reactive, additive to society, and authentic is key to striking the right balance.

Unsurprisingly, brands with a clear purpose and confident social footprint will benefit most from this approach. Examples include BrewDog making hand sanitiser and Burberry transforming its factory to make personal protective equipment for frontline workers.

In our yearning for life to return to normal, we understand now more than ever that brands have a huge role to play in the fabric of our society.