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The Social Distancing 7: Media Channels That Will Grow During an Outbreak

A version of this article was published on Mediapost, click here to read it.

As Americans focus on health and safety during the COVID-19 outbreak, they are sheltering in place and working from home—and about to set records in media consumption. In 2019, prior to the outbreak, Nielsen reported the average U.S. consumer watched, read or listened to 10.5 hours of media each day. We are forecasting a significant increase in consumption as our daily routines and habits adjust to this new reality.

Here is Mediassociates’ view of the media channels that will grow most in coming months.

1. Social media — Social distancing doesn’t apply to social media as online social engagement has seen a major spike during the global pandemic. A recent study from February to March found a 22% increase in Instagram impressions and a 27% increase in TikTok engagement. Social media will be the channel of choice as the world connects and shares its stories of the pandemic. We anticipate a significant increase in the already colossal usage of social media over the coming months.
2.Mobile and video games — Since the start of the outbreak, within China time spent on mobile devices has risen by 20%. Across the world, mobile devices continue to be the first screen people are going to; accessing news, information, social media, and other content. Closely related, more than 138 million Americans were playing mobile games prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Video games are noteworthy because they comprise a $44 billion industry in the United States that marketers often ignore. Look for overall mobile usage and mobile gaming in particular to increase significantly in the coming weeks as people search for a break from the news and new ways to connect with each other.

3. Video — Coronavirus issues could mean a 60% increase in the amount of video content watched in U.S. homes, according to Nielsen. They reported a 22% increase in total TV usage in the Seattle/Tacoma metro last Wednesday—one of the first affected areas in the U.S.—compared with the week prior. With cord-cutting households now being 20% of the U.S. population, so-called “over the top” or OTT viewing and online video will make up a significant portion of this change. Live streaming across YouTube, Twitch, Facebook and Mixer grew by more than 66% in Italy between the first week of February and this past week, according to StreamElements, and viewers were watching nearly double the number of channels. In Italy and Spain, first-time installs of Netflix’s app were up 57% and 34%, respectively, according to Sensor Tower data. And as movie theaters shut, Hollywood studios will turn to streaming video solutions. Universal Pictures has already announced it will bypass the traditional 90-day window for theatrical releases and send new films directly to the home streaming market. Regardless of the length of the pandemic, we expect many of these shifts to last.

4. Streaming Audio — In 2020, 40% of U.S. adults use some form of music-streaming service, paying on average $34 a year per user. The cost to listen to music via alternative streaming formats is very low — often free, if supported by advertising — and these services are likely to be perceived as a bargain in a time of growing economic uncertainty. Spotify estimates the music subscription market will grow from about $8.9 billion in 2019 to $17.3 billion by 2024, so gaining market share now will be critical. As we get out of our cars and work from home, expect their usage to rise.

5. Podcasts and Audio Books — In the United States, 90 million people already listen to podcasts at least once a month. Amidst the outbreak, news is the fastest-growing genre within podcasts as users look to both new and trusted sources for information. Since Jan. 22 the podcast network Acast had more than 650 episodes which reference “corona” or “COVID” in the episode titles, and these have already been downloaded 16 million times. Similarly, in the past year 1 in 5 Americans were listening to audiobooks, quickly approaching the level of ebook readership. As we look for something to pass our time in isolation, we expect podcasts and audiobooks to thrive.

6. Search — Since Feb. 16, Google Trends reports that U.S. searches for “COVID-19” have scaled more than 100x. Beyond this specific topic, search engine use is likely to be resurgent as consumers seek information on health, order supplies by mail, or seek new forms of entertainment. Google arose to prominence back when the Internet was confusing and difficult to navigate. In this new time of uncertainty, search engines will be a revitalized entry point for finding reliable information.

7. E-commerce — A Coresight Research study at the end of February found that 55% of adults over age 30 planned to avoid all public stores if the COVID-19 outbreak worsened, and online shopping will be their obvious alternative. Amazon plans to hire an additional 100,000 employees in the U.S. as millions of people turn to online deliveries at an unprecedented pace and Americans continue to reorient their lives to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. As shopping moves to a primarily online pursuit, we are predicting that ecommerce sites will have increased paid advertising placements, promoting products available on their sites as well as complementary goods and services.

And what about measurement? These media shifts will enable marketers to connect with consumers in new ways, however behavioral change also makes campaign measurement more complex. As homebound consumers leap rapidly between media platforms — likely watching traditional TV, then online videos, engaging on social platforms and hunting for digital shopping deals, finally punching up Google — what used to be a “multitouch attribution” question will become even more puzzling. We are entering a new world of ambient media in which consumers at home are swimming in communications, spending more time than ever before with traditional TV and digital, mobile and social. Marketers who have relied too much on digital click data will need to reevaluate integrated campaign measurement.
Thinking beyond the current outbreak—yes, we will be through this at some point—the bigger question is what will be the lasting impact of these shifts. COVID-19 will be an accelerant for all of these trends, and smart shifts in your paid media investment will help you efficiently and effectively break through to your audience in a time of social distancing. We wish everyone health and safety.