What Coronavirus Means for Media Consumption — and How to Respond

Written byKathy Richter
April 27, 2020

As consumers around the globe are forced into lockdown, they are relying on OTT streaming, e-commerce platforms, and participatory digital experiences for work, leisure, and connection. How can brands address these new digital behaviors?

With 90 percent of Americans on lockdown, the physical demarcations between work, leisure, and family time have all but disappeared, prompting tectonic shifts in how we connect, consume, and engage in daily life. Once stratified across channels, devices, and locations, people’s media diets are coalescing to accommodate more stationary lifestyles. As consumers grapple with the global health crisis and its consequent effects — all while trying to keep their jobs, social bonds, and home lives intact — they are streamlining their media consumption to receive the most germane content for their particular needs and wants. Though overall media usage is expected to see a 60 percent increase, not every platform will ride the surge. To maintain reach and relevance with homebound consumers, brands and media buyers need to reallocate planned placements and focus on newly popular digital services.

Of all the changes impacting the media industry, perhaps the most significant is where people are accessing content. With transportation to and from work largely on pause, along with concerts, restaurants, movie theaters, and other gathering spaces, people are almost exclusively receiving brand communications at home. The homeward migration is rendering billboards, subway ads, and outdoor placements in general temporarily obsolete; according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, spending on out-of-home advertising has seen an estimated 51 percent drop throughout March and April. At the same time, the potential of at-home digital platforms is surging.

Stuck at home and multitasking between emails, videoconferences, and online searches (work-related or otherwise), consumers are demonstrating a clear preference for desktop and laptop computers over mobile devices. Website traffic for Facebook, Netflix, and YouTube has skyrocketed, while the same platforms are seeing reduced numbers on their mobile apps, according to data from The New York Times. For brands and marketers, this shift necessitates a return to larger-format design for computer viewing and a deprioritization of mobile-first content. 

In terms of platform usage, streaming services are booming, from audio and gaming to movies and music. In the first two weeks of March, total streaming hours on connected TVs increased 24 percent year-over-year, according to Comscore data. Primetime TV usage is also up, albeit less dramatically, with 5 percent more viewers tuning in since March 15, compared to the same period last year. Among TV news, local networks are tracking notable increases in daily viewers, paralleling similar traffic spikes on local news websites. The increased engagement across streaming, broadcast television, and local news publications reveals a two-pronged impulse: consumers are craving levity and distraction, while at the same time seeking facts and hyper-local updates on the state of the pandemic. Brands can reach viewers consuming both types of content — entertainment-focused and informational — by using Internet-based targeting to reach consumers wherever they are exploring.

With in-person activations on hold, brands are engaging with customers via participatory digital experiences, from live-streamed concerts and comedy shows to museum tours and cooking classes. As a result, photo- and text-based platforms like Instagram and Facebook are seeing unprecedented adoption of their live video extensions. Beyond shifts in well-established platforms, previously obscure video-based services are riding a wave of popularity. Socializing apps like Duo, Houseparty, and Nextdoor are on the rise, as are tools for working and learning from home like Zoom, Google Classroom, and Microsoft Teams. With social distancing mandates keeping friends, families, and communities apart, people are opting for digital spaces that allow them to see each other’s faces. Brands can address the desire for face-to-face connections by inviting user-generated content on social media and partnering with influential personalities to host live-streamed events.

Amid the rapidly changing media climate, brands and marketers are understandably worried about hitting the wrong note — in fact, four out of five multinational brands are deferring planned campaigns in the wake of the pandemic, according to the World Federation of Advertisers. But based on consumer sentiment, now is not the time to freeze communications: 31 percent of people expect brands to help them weather the pandemic, and only 8 percent believe that companies should stop advertising, according to Kantar Media. With judicious media placements that account for new screen and platform preferences, you can stay meaningfully connected with core audiences in our increasingly disconnected world.

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